TOMORROW marks the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Dickens, an author whose writing made a continuous and concerted effort to marry the concepts of prosperity and morality.
It is right, therefore, that, in view of the challenges we currently face, we celebrate the life and works of a great writer and Londoner.
Never before has the importance of the relationship between business and morality been more pertinent.
Recently, public debate has centred on the structure of our economy and the distribution of its benefits and burdens. People want to know the City’s role, how it serves London, the wider economy and indeed our communities through supporting job-creation, growth and trade.
In Dickens’s work we can recognise a world very much like our own. In Dombey and Son, the heartless businessman Paul Dombey resembles a motif used in modern media. When asked “what is money?” Paul replies with a list: “circulating-medium currency … paper, bullion, rates of exchange, values of precious metals in the market”.
But for Dickens, money is far more than simply buying or selling. Between the pages of his books, not only does money bring people together and split them apart; it turns ordinary people into contrasting models – of generosity and of greed.
Dickens’s work gives us examples of how we can find a way through our current difficulties, bringing together money and its proper use.
We must make it evident that we know the value of money and the value of the City. For the financial City, this means continuing to demonstrate our connections and our contribution to the nation and the wider economy. We are fundamental to the nation’s prosperity – and we will take pride in playing our part in the recovery.
We need to restore faith in business. The City and financial services are of integral importance to the UK’s economy. Over the course of a six city tour of Northern England and Ireland last month, it became clear to me that many businesses lack the confidence to invest and grow. They are worried about the economic environment, about fiscal and regulatory unpredictability, and about the current mood music – and so they hesitate before taking on external support and finance.
The recent controversies over bonuses and honours are a distraction from the real job of financial services, which is to provide jobs and facilitate growth across the country. In order to do that we need a rational business environment – not one where headline-grabbing, short-term political agendas dominate.
For many years, the Bank of England issued ten pound notes, with a scene from the Pickwick Papers on one side and a portrait of Dickens on the other. This served as a constant reminder of Dickens’s idea of how we can use money best: in the service of the wider economy and in the service of our fellow citizens.
The City must continue to strive for this objective so that we can turn the worst of times – or at least seriously tough times – into the best of times.
David Wootton is Lord Mayor of the City of London.