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London’s Lord mayor sets out to boost diversity

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The new lord mayor of London wants people from different backgrounds to put themselves up for election to the City’s historic bodies.

Vincent Keaveny, who became lord mayor yesterday, said that the City of London Corporation and the aldermen who represent its 25 wards were “not as diverse as we would like”.

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Keaveny, the first Irish person to hold the historic role, hopes that will change with elections for the Court of Common Council — the City of London’s decision-making body — and some aldermen in March. “It is really important that we get more women and more people from diverse backgrounds,” he said.

There is some way to go. Only four aldermen out of the present twenty-four are women. Just two, Baroness Scotland of Asthal and Prem Goyal, the former banker, identify themselves as coming from a BAME background. In the past, many have been Freemasons.

Anyone who does stand needs to persuade an electorate made up of registered businesses and individuals in the City wards. Aldermen, in turn, elect the lord mayor, along with input from the City’s livery companies, which are based on historic occupations widened out over centuries to include other jobs.

Livery companies also have been in the spotlight for their lack of representation of wider society. One, the Worshipful Company of Bowyers — historically, the makers of longbows — did not allow women to be members until recently.

Keaveny noted that livery companies were “private organisations”, but he was supportive of change, including the bowyers’ lifting of the ban on women. “No livery company is in that position, to my great pleasure,” he said.

Naturally, the 56-year-old, who takes on the one-year post from DLA Piper, the law firm where he is a partner specialising in advising financial institutions, believes in its traditions. He has been an alderman since 2013 and served as sheriff of the City of London in 2018, which involved he and his wife Amanda — an intensive care nurse — living in lodgings in the Old Bailey.

Now the Keavenys take up residence in Mansion House with the new role. That is both exciting, according to the new lord mayor — giving them the opportunity to live in a Georgian palace — and practical, as his schedule is packed with engagements.

He has picked diversity in the City as one his themes for his year in office. He is a co-chairman of a government-commissioned task force to boost the number of people from working-class backgrounds joining and then progressing in financial and professional services, working with Sandra Wallace, interim chairwoman of the Social Mobility Commission, and Andy Haldane, the former Bank of England chief economist. Keaveny’s task is to come up with a permanent body by the spring to take the findings forward, including getting companies to sign up to targets.

The work comes after The Bridge Group, a consultancy, found that people from poorer backgrounds take on average an extra year to progress for every four of those from more privileged upbringings.

Keaveny takes over as lord mayor from William Russell (the fifth member of his family to hold the role) after the Cop26 climate summit and amid the push to make Britain a centre for green finance. Helping to galvanise the City to come up with market-leading, climate-friendly products and attracting international investment to them is Keaveny’s other theme. He believes that the UK will have an advantage if such products are also at the heart of the “just transition” — to manage the push to net zero in a way that is fair to all.

“It is important to put London at the heart of social impact investing,” he said. “We have all the right skill-sets here. The people, capital, the regulators are right here on our doorstep, our language and our time zone.”

Keaveny has a packed schedule ahead of him, including trips to Ireland, Spain and Portugal and the west coast of America already planned. He hopes to take delegations with him, particularly to the United States, as part of the push to attract international investment to London.

The history of the role of lord mayor and the fact that it is free of party political association plays well around the world, according to Keaveny. But at home, the new holder of the office wants to shake things up.

Silent biginning to a frenetic year

The role of lord mayor is one of the oldest civic offices in the world, dating from 1189 (Katherine Griffiths writes). In its relatively early days — the 13th century — it was a position elected by the City of London rather than the monarch.

Yesterday Vincent Keaveny became No 693 to hold the role, which has evolved to be an ambassadorial position promoting Britain’s financial and professional services sector. Many traditional rules still apply, including that officially only the monarch takes precedence over the lord mayor within the City’s boundaries.

The lord mayor is officially admitted to the role through an 800-year-old Silent Ceremony in the Guildhall, which took place yesterday. A noisier tradition follows in today’s Lord Mayor’s Show. The Lord Mayor of London’s State Coach, used since 1757, will be the star of a procession that includes floats, musicians and horses.

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