AS THE geographic and financial heart of London, protests have been part of the Square Mile’s history ever since the settlement was first founded.
So while demonstrators pitching their tents outside St Paul’s Cathedral may make for an eyesore – and pose considerable logistical and environmental challenges – it is important these alternative views are respected as long as they are expressed in a way that is peaceful and does not cause unnecessary disruption.
The City will accommodate lawful protest but this should not involve a long-term campsite, especially one that forces a major place of worship to close and has a significant economic impact on nearby businesses, almost all of which are retail – rather than financial.
We hope common sense will prevail and those camping around the Cathedral will recognise that they are damaging the integrity of their protest by their actions and decide to disband in a peaceful manner.
Although there does not appear to be a single coherent message behind these protests – which started in Wall Street, and spread to many other countries – they do seem to reflect and draw upon a widespread anger at the perceived inequalities created by the financial crisis between the financial industry and the ordinary citizen.
This disconnect between the UK financial services industry and the rest of the economy is an issue that has to be addressed. We need to work harder to improve understanding of how the City benefits the whole economy by providing the finance for innovation and job-creation.
That is why this week we are launching a new Angels in the City initiative in partnership with London Business Angels, one of Europe’s leading Angel Investment Networks. This scheme will recruit individuals to invest as business angels in small businesses on the City’s fringes, including the so-called Tech City development supported by the government.
Several leading companies including Google, Vodafone, Facebook, Intel and McKinsey have committed to invest in the long-term future of Tech City. This is a positive sign but we also need to reach out and channel investment to small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) that could one day become British digital technology blue chips in their own right.
The City Corporation is working closely with London Business Angels to put on a series of workshops designed to attract individuals that could help facilitate such rapid growth by making their skills, experience and contacts available – in addition to capital.
Business angel finance is often the most appropriate source of funding for these early stage SMEs to assist them to build their business and bring their products to market. It is also an increasingly tax-efficient investment vehicle for angel investors, with income tax relief on investments now standing at 30 per cent.
Entrepreneurship and innovation will play a vital role in driving the UK economy forward over the coming years. Angels in the City will help unlock the funding pipeline needed to support these twin drivers of economic growth. This is a model of how the City can support other industries by working in partnership to bring together investors and firms with high growth potential. To register your interest please visit www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/angelsinthecity.
Stuart Fraser is policy chairman at the City of London Corporation.