03.12.20 Assistant Richard Haycocks

Sheriff Christopher Hayward optimistic about the future of the City

In response to the many recent questions posed about the governance, operations and future of the City of London we were very fortunate to hold an illuminating and informative hour by Zoom with Sheriff Christopher Hayward in November. At this event, he expressed his personal views about the impact on the City of Brexit, Covid, air pollution and Crossrail’s new Elizabeth line. We were delighted to welcome 40 Masters and Wardens of other Liveries out of a total of 51 attendees.

Sheriff Christopher Hayward is very experienced in the governance of the City. He is Deputy Chairman of the City’s Policy & Resources Committee, Chairman of the Gresham Committee (City Side) and the Common Councilman for Broad Street Ward.

The welfare of the City is important to all of us. The businesses based there pay around 10% of all taxes and employ around 500,000 highly skilled and well paid people. The City Corporation promotes and supports the City as the world leader in international finance and business services. The governance of the City is complex and unique. As very few people actually live in the Square Mile, Council Members are elected by the senior people responsible for the businesses based there as well as local residents. For example I, as a partner in a City firm, had a vote in the City elections, as well as those for the local council where I live.

The Sheriff gave us a lucid whistle stop tour of the structure of the City Corporation, explaining the roles of the two elected bodies, the Court of Aldermen (25 members), which selects the Lord Mayor and from which he or she is drawn, and the Court of Common Council (100 members). Members sit on some 30 committees and are unremunerated and apolitical. The Sheriff explained that there are proposals afoot to simplify the structure and reduce the number of committees.

Asked about the impact of Brexit on the City, and in particular the loss of “passporting rights” that have allowed City firms to operate across the EU unimpeded, the Sheriff said that the City was disappointed that any Brexit deal would not include financial services. City firms may however be able to get “equivalence” status, where the EU deems domestic regulations are aligned closely enough to those of EU firms. In that case they can then serve EU customers from their home base and avoid having to set up a subsidiary in the EU. However, he was confident that the City, with its well respected pragmatic approach, deep technical resource, ease of access to the benefits of the UK legal system and the widespread use of the English language would continue to thrive and grow.

The Covid epidemic has had a huge impact on the City-not only as a result of home working for so many of those who would normally commute to the City, but also the impact of the curtailment of normal activities on secondary businesses such as restaurants, bars and shops, many of which have closed. He expected City workers to return to their offices for the most part, although he accepted that this process may take perhaps two or three years. The City’s planning horizon, 25 to 30 years, had taken account of the technical changes that would enable home working, but there was still huge demand for office space. The Sheriff noted that City rents were now below those in the West End and, as a result, a number of firms had moved east. He wanted the City to become a 24/7 city, with visitors using its bars and amenities right through the evenings and at weekends.

In a lively question and answer session the Sheriff was asked about the move of the Museum of London to the Smithfield Market site. He said this was proceeding. Whilst the Corporation’s finances in the past had been robust they had been hit hard by Covid, in particular reducing rental income and the Corporation was now facing tougher times which might delay the Museum’s move.

Asked about the Elizabeth Line, the Sheriff said the City was very disappointed about the long and continuing delays, but he said that, when it opens, it will provide rapid pollution free travel from the City to the West End and to Heathrow. The Corporation had been very concerned about air quality in particular and as a result, traffic flow had been dramatically reduced at the Bank junction through a ban on some types of vehicle during the day. The ban had been put into place because of pollution, rather than because of congestion. He noted that the City had only very restricted parking, only some 3,000 spaces, so traffic was naturally constrained.

Overall, the Sheriff was very optimistic and it was good to have a much needed tonic at a time of the continuing pandemic (thanks goodness for the vaccines) and Brexit worries. A fascinating and informative hour. Our thanks go to the Sheriff and the Master for inviting him.