London must regain its Victorian spirit to capitalise on the triumph of 2012

Roger Gifford
NOW the curtain has closed on a glorious 2012 for London and Britain, the stage is already being prepared for a very different year ahead. We’ll need to build on recent achievements to deliver a tangible legacy for future generations.

We must up our game, rather than lower our expectations for 2013. This means focusing more on the future, with the benefit of lessons learnt. That is, of course, easier said than done in this age of austerity, so our crucial challenge for the new year is to foster a fresh age of enterprise – the same spirit shown by our great Victorian forbears, whose visionary legacy we still enjoy.

We remain particularly indebted to one man from this era – Charles Pearson, solicitor to the City Corporation. He played an integral role during the nineteenth century in delivering the world’s first underground line from Farringdon to Paddington, which celebrates the 150th anniversary of its opening next week.

It cannot be overstated how vitally important this ground-breaking idea has been to the capital. In spite of cynicism, Pearson recognised that the Metropolitan Railway would relieve over-crowding, lead to better housing, improved social conditions, and a more conducive environment for a global centre of commerce, finance and trade. In other words, he understood the fundamental truth that, if business in the City is to do well, the whole of London-town must also prosper – and vice versa.

Key to getting this idea off the ground was Pearson’s dogged efforts to convince leading City figures of the time to invest in it. There are obvious parallels with more recent London infrastructure projects, including Crossrail and the Tube upgrade programme.

So as the Tube celebrates this significant anniversary, it is important to remember the vital role that the City continues to play in financing good ideas. Whether it is infrastructure, manufacturing or the creative industries, we have a huge range of expertise and financing models available.

Of course, such projects bring with them risk, even if the business model is carefully thought through. But as the success of Pearson demonstrates, risk cannot be measured by a mathematical model – or an Excel spreadsheet – alone. Relationships and trust are key commodities in all markets.

The lesson we should take from our forbears into 2013 is that, if you have a good idea and the vision and drive to deliver it, the City stands ready with the necessary finance. This is because the successes of the City, London and the UK remain inextricably linked – just as during the Victorian age of industry, invention and growth, and just as in our new era of enterprise, opportunity and innovation.

Roger Gifford is lord mayor of the City of London.