9:00am Wednesday 8th February 2012
By Chris Holland
There are no airs and graces about the 684th Lord Mayor of the City of London.
Happy to be back in the city of his birth, the modern-day Dick Whittington insists it’s first name terms right from the off.
“Lord Mayor of London is a title. Call me David,” he said.
Not to be confused with Boris Johnson, who holds the modern political office of Mayor of London, David Wootton’s role dates back to 1189 and the incumbent – which to date has included only one woman – is effectively the chief officer of the City of London, the Square Mile.
The most famous of them all, of course, is Dick Whittington, who held the office three times, in 1397, 1406 and 1419. Contrary to popular belief, Dick was not a poor, ill-treated orphan who managed against all the odds to work his way up to Lord Mayor. Coming from a wealthy family, Richard Whittington had a successful business and civic career before he became Lord Mayor.
The same is true of David Wootton, who has risen to be a top corporate lawyer.
David, 61, grew up in Horton Bank Top and Shipley and attended Bradford Grammar School, where he was deputy head boy. He went to Jesus College, Cambridge, and since graduating has built a successful career with Allen and Overy, one of the UK legal profession’s ‘magic circle’ firms, where he is now a partner.
But legal affairs have been put on hold for a year. Being Lord Mayor is a full-time job with a strong commercial focus both at home and abroad.
His hectic itinerary in Bradford last month, which began with breakfast at the Chamber of Commerce, followed by several company visits, lunch with Bradford’s own Lord Mayor, Coun Naveeda Ikram, ending with dinner with top Council and business figures, was typical of his schedule.
The Lord Mayor of London’s key responsibility, apart from the ceremonials, is to promote the City as one of the world’s leading international finance centres. The modern incumbent spends around 90 days promoting the City abroad along with several business-focused visits across the UK.
He addresses about 10,000 people each month, making around 700 speeches a year.
David, whose father, retired headmaster James, lives in Silsden with his stepmother, wants local firms to ‘piggy back’ on the prestige of his office by joining his overseas tours. He also wants to use his year of office to break down perceived barriers between the City and the rest of the UK economy and show that the Square Mile is in touch with the real world.
On his return to Bradford, David said: “Visits such as this and to other parts of the UK are essential in enabling me to see what’s going on in the UK economy and flag up what Britain has to offer when I travel overseas, which will take about a quarter of my time in office.
“I have been amazed at the doors which being Lord Mayor of London can open and I’m very keen to help UK companies take advantage of that,” said David, whose path to the ancient office began a decade ago when he stood for election as a ‘common councilman’ – councillor – and later became an alderman.
Next month he’s off to the Middle East, visiting oil-rich states such as Doha, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Riyadh, Jeddah, Al Khobar and Kuwait City. Canada, Russia and China and other Far East countries are also on the Lord Mayor’s foreign itinerary.
At home, David is determined to restore trust in the City of London, dented by the international banking crisis and still under the spotlight in the controversy over huge bonus payments. He will continue the initiative launched by his predecessor which seeks to identify, recognise, encourage and embed best practice in the marketplace.
He was under the TV spotlight during the recent furore over the stripping of former RBS boss Fred Goodwin’s knighthood. David gave a guarded warning about the potential damage a perceived ‘anti-business’ stance by politicians could do to the UK’s reputation.
During his recent tour of Bradford and Leeds, he called for greater cohesion between the financial services sector in Yorkshire and the City to provide a ‘joined-up’ approach to promoting services in the City and abroad.
“I think it’s vital for us to work more closely together and take advantage of the huge opportunities that exist. The traditional view has been for us to regard different cities in parts of the UK as competition. But we should recognise each other’s strengths. There’s a lot more scope for being more joined-up in what we do,” he said.
After his tour of Bradford companies including Haworth Scouring, Pace, Advanced Actuators, Acorn Stairlifts and Ecology Building Society, the Lord Mayor was impressed by the district’s still-strong manufacturing base and exporting record.
He said: “While trading conditions remain tough and there are some worries about accessing finance, I’m delighted that my home city still boasts some very strong, innovative and enterprising companies.
“The processors and manufacturers I visited have strong exporting records, use state-of-the-art technology and employ people with a wide range of skills. The Ecology has successfully ploughed a unique commercial furrow in the mortgage industry and promoted good environmental practice at the same time.
“Where appropriate, I would hope that local companies could benefit from the prestige of my office which I hope to use to promote UK business as much as I can.”
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