We sat down with Peter Estlin to talk about his year as the City of London Lord Mayor & his legacy of promoting digital skills and innovation across the UK through future.now.
There have been 691 Lord Mayor serving the City of London down the years, but a lot is still surprisingly unknown about the role.
Peter Estlin is the man at the helm now – getting ready to hand the baton over to the incoming William Russell – having advocated for the UK’s financial and broader business interests abroad this past year. And that’s his main role: selling the City (and the rest of the UK) to the world.
This means he spends a massive chunk of his time travelling about, meeting heads of state, local regulators, individual businesses and charities. This year he visited 34 cities in 25 countries alongside a number of repeat visits to China, the US and Canada.
But he’s not only working to get people excited to invest in the Square Mile. Estlin has made a very conscious effort to focus on innovation across the entire UK. He believes that the country needs to keep modernising and evolving with the times. This keeps us relevant and competitive – even with the Brexit shadow looming over everything.
Estlin notes how Brexit has been a big hurdle for progress. He says: “The sentiment that I pick up across the whole of the UK and internationally – I pick it up with business people and citizens in various cities – is look just get on and come to a decision.
“You can’t just keep going on and on and on. And it’s that frustration that is really overshadowing and getting in the way of real-world issues.
“Whether we talk about climate change, the digitisation of our industries, whether we talk about continued migration of people around the world. These are really important issues.”
But dealing with Brexit isn’t Estlin’s job: “My job is to promote the innovation that is taking place because we are seeing record levels of employment. The City is growing not only here but the city in Manchester is growing, the vibrancy of Bristol and the vibrancy of Cambridge. We’re getting record levels of capital coming into the UK.”
His job is to push all of that positive PR. To counter the negative impact Brexit is having on the economy and in hiding all innovation happening here.
And, with that in mind, his major focus has been in ‘Shaping Tomorrow’s City Today’ – that’s the slogan he is pushing through his main future.now initiative which was launched on 10 October. This will be his legacy as the Lord Mayor of the City of London.
Working with businesses in the City of London and all over the UK, Estlin is trying to have a wide-reaching impact on the UK’s digital future. Individual companies and the government are already working on this – BT with its barefoot programme, Lloyds with its Lloyds Academy, Barclays with its Eagle Labs – but he notes how “we are not moving the dial”.
“And we’re not moving the dial because actually at the end of the day we’re not actually motivating people into an attitudinal shift of lifelong learning.
“We’re not talking about some of the fantastic initiatives that are helping 10,000 people or even a million people, we’re talking about tens of millions of people that we need to move the dial on.”
They aim to help boost the skills of 30million people across the whole country. Some 17.3million people in work need to upskill while 11.9million don’t even have the basic digital skills to engage with the market.
“We want to progress and move forward, but we’ve got to take everybody with us,” Estlin says.
This shows how the role of Lord Mayor doesn’t just confine him to the Square Mile. Estlin has been pushing to make grand national change. And the power of the City of London Corporation comes from the businesses they work with and support. Estlin works with the big dogs in the City to take part and push this change themselves.
Legislation in parliament goes a long way, but Estlin does the groundwork with those who can immediately help on a large scale. And innovation is not just pushed on the businesses. The Corporation itself works at leading by example. It needs to remain relevant and evolve with the times if it is going to get businesses and the rest of the UK to follow. One way chiefs do this is through their charitable giving.
For the next few years they are going to focus on the Lord Mayor’s Appeals’ main events, alongside supporting the Samaritans, the development of on-site Youth Zones, and Place2Be, through which they put councillors right into primary schools across London. And, even though the term of a Lord Mayor is only one year, Estlin wants to ensure there is a long-term strategy and legacy.
“It’s not only about one individual Lord Mayor. It’s about creating a real movement. And so together with my predecessor Charles Bowman and my successor William Russell we’ve created a long-term strategy for the first three years.
“We look at it in the sense of the impact that we’re having, not just as three individual people, but actually in convening and bringing businesses into the fold. We’ve got a record number of corporate partners now that are contributing to these programmes. And it’s not just benefitting the appeal and the three charities, but it’s really driving momentum on a healthy City, an innovative City, an inclusive City, and a fair City.
“And that’s the power of the mayoralty. That’s the power of convening and acting as a cohesive force for good. Drawing on the strengths of all the component parts. Individually we are good but actually as a group of businesses and communities we’re even better.”