City Matters: The City and capitalism must adapt to the challenges of a fast-changing world

Fiona Woolf
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IN RECENT years, London’s business community has been forced to face up to a number of challenges to the status quo. The changes the industry has gone through since have been substantial and not always pleasant. But one positive that has come out of this is an increased focus on a more sustainable form of capitalism, driven by a desire for long-term success.

I believe that it is this forward-looking attitude that will help the City succeed in the future, as it charts a new course through the rapidly-changing global economy. It will also be crucial in dealing with the many challenges London faces, as its businesses help society tackle some of the biggest issues of the twenty-first century: a growing population, increasingly scarce resources, and the uncertainties of climate change.

London’s population is forecast to grow to 10m by 2030, but this is dwarfed by the 3bn people in Africa and Asia who will rise to form a new middle class by 2030. All these people will have the financial ability to consume at an enormous rate, but will be relying on a planet under vastly greater strain, with climate change already contributing to the deaths of nearly 400,000 people a year, costing the global economy more than $1.2 trillion (£741bn) and wiping 1.6 per cent off global GDP annually. These are huge challenges, but they also represent enormous opportunities.

This is why, as lord mayor, I will be throwing my weight behind Tomorrow’s Company, with my year long programme of events and debates under the title Tomorrow’s City. This will bring together leaders across a range of fields to explore how we can work better together to seize these opportunities through innovative solutions. Tomorrow’s City can be a part of the wider movement reshaping capitalism to bring profits and prosperity for all. Time and time again, London has seized the opportunities of every transformational stage of industrialisation: from the first joint stock companies in the seventeenth century, to the Big Bang in 1986 and the advent of the internet in the 1990s.

Now, in the twenty-first century, capitalism has taken another gigantic leap – with huge shifts in the global economy and the location and ownership of capital and skills. This is accompanied with massive economic, political and environmental challenges – not least the challenge of making capitalism work for a new and growing middle class. London must ensure that its great cluster of services can capture the benefits of a diverse and wide talent pool at all levels, for the innovation that will enable it to meet the changing needs of business, markets and investors – but also the needs of society as a whole, and of the environment in which we live.

Ensuring London is fit to compete in this fast-changing world over the coming decades is a huge challenge, but I have no doubt that the City will rise to it. I intend to use my year as lord mayor to kick-start a debate led Tomorrow’s Company and my firm CMS. I hope that as many City workers and institutions as possible will take part.

Fiona Woolf is lord mayor of London.