Christmas is the ideal time to revive the City’s tradition of charitable giving

Roger Gifford
FEAR that the UK could slip into a triple-dip recession heightened last week, as the services sector posted an unexpected slowdown. Yet remarkably, over half of us are still giving to good causes, despite the challenging economic outlook.

This encouragingly high proportion of the population, includes many in the Square Mile. Contrary to myth, City workers are neither insulated from, nor blind to, the needs of society. We neighbour some of the poorest areas in Europe.

As Christmas and the traditional season of giving approach, I have had the opportunity to explore a huge range of philanthropic efforts as part of the judging panel for the Beacon Awards. These pioneers are making an exceptional contribution to charitable and social causes, and will be celebrated at an awards ceremony at Mansion House next February.

Meanwhile, it is vital that we communicate the excellent work that takes place across the City, and often goes unreported. A new City Philanthropy – a Wealth of Opportunity initiative aims to shine a light on the City’s proud, centuries-old tradition of support for its communities, and how that unique footing ensures the City remains at the forefront of corporate community engagement.

The story of Dick Whittington, a famous past lord mayor, is being told not far from here at the Hackney Empire pantomime. But the reality of his life and legacy is far more substantial. He was a pragmatic philanthropist, who helped thousands of ordinary Londoners. He lived at a time when the index of success was how much of it you gave away – and ended up giving his entire fortune away.

The City’s livery companies embody those principles. They help to train youngsters in a trade and give away tens of millions of pounds every year to education. The City of London corporation’s charity, the City Bridge Trust, awarded grants of £18.9m to worthy causes in 2011-12. This links to our City in Society appeal, which seeks to build capital and create long-term benefits – particularly by supporting talented young musicians at the start of their careers, and helping to protect and enhance the City and UK’s global pre-eminence in the arts.

My ambition is to promote London as a world leading centre for charitable giving. New funding circles are being developed so that City workers can contribute in some shape or form, regardless of their age and profession.

But we should do more than just encourage individual giving. I want the City to utilise its business expertise so that London becomes a hub for managing philanthropic funds and social investment. We already have the right legal, tax and charity framework to achieve this.

Philanthropy has been at the heart of the City since the Medieval Ages. This has made a real difference over the centuries but, as always perhaps, we we can do more. To take a maxim from Anne Frank’s diary: “Nobody has ever become poor by giving”.

Roger Gifford is lord mayor of the City of London.