Profile: David Wootton

David Wootton is the first Lord Mayor of the City of London to hail from Yorkshire since 1955. Bernard Ginns catches up with him.

IT is shortly after 8am on Thursday and David Wootton is being driven from Heathrow to London.

He has just returned from India, his 28th and penultimate trip overseas as Lord Mayor of the City of London.

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Wootton, a senior City lawyer and the first Yorkshireman to hold the office since 1955, is telling me about the trip.

“It was excellent – lots of goodwill towards British things and British business and some positive announcements at their end that some of the restrictions on foreign businesses are going to be lifted, which is good.

“The purpose of the trip was to promote business relations between the UK and India generally and in specific sectors like financial services and infrastructure, both of which the UK is good at.”

He met with senior Indian government ministers in Delhi and state authorities in Chennai, one of the most important industrial cities of the subcontinent.

“On Saturday I’m going to Mexico, where we have until Wednesday. Then I’m flying to Colombia, to Bogota; then Argentina for four days and then a week in Brazil.

“They are four major countries in Latin America and that’s all about building up business and trade links. It’s a matter of opening doors, establishing contacts and developing existing contacts.”

Before you start complaining about public sector jollies, the cost of the trips is met by historic endowments. These include money left by Dick Whittington, said a press officer for the City of London Corporation.

Richard Whittington (1354-1423) was a successful cloth merchant and four times Lord Mayor, a Member of Parliament and Sheriff of London – as well as the inspiration for the pantomime character.

The link illustrates the historical nature of the role, which dates back to 1189 and is not to be confused with the Mayor of London.

Wootton is the 684th Lord Mayor and like Dick Whittington, he went to London to make his fortune, finding it at the elite City law firm Allen & Overy.

The Bradford-born lawyer became a partner at the magic circle firm in 1979 and advises corporates on mergers and acquisitions, public and private takeovers, capital raisings, IPOs, joint ventures and corporate restructurings.

Back to the overseas work. “Many are the preparatory visits, not the kind of visits where there are loads of contracts signed. Those visits are later,” he said.

“What I’m about is establishing the trade and investment climate and making sure that British businesses have access to the markets and are well received by governments and business contacts out there.”

How is he received, I wonder.

“Very well. Most people in most countries know something about the office of Lord Mayor. In countries with historic links to Britain they know more about it. Everyone I met in India knew what the Lord Mayor of London was.”

Wootton has been welcomed everywhere, he said, cheering news for those of you who care about how Britain and her businesses are viewed by our international cousins.

“One of the things that’s come across this year is the amount of goodwill towards Britain. Britain is trusted as a place to do business with.”

That’s good to hear. Perhaps we should be taking greater advantage of that goodwill. The Government is trying to help through its policy of commercial diplomacy, which involves using the network of embassies and high commissions much more to promote British business interests.

I ask if Wootton if he can name any contracts that have been won as a result of all his diplomating.

“Contracts relating to infrastructure projects in the Middle East,” he said. “Where as a result of visits by Lord Mayors there are companies involved in design and project management and construction.”

That is all very well, but doesn’t anyone challenge him about the City and its role in bringing about the global financial crisis? The narrative in the UK very clearly blames the banks for causing the crash.

“It’s assumed that banks in other countries did not do the same; in some they did not, but in many countries they did so you get the same narrative.

“It’s actually quite surprising the criticism of banks here is not picked up. The standing of the City and the financial community here in the rest of the world is very high.

“A very good example of that is that China wants to make more use internationally of its renminbi as a trading currency and later on as a reserve currency.

“But to do that they need to have the renminbi traded in financial centres outside China. The one they are working with is London. That really is the proof of the pudding. There are no doubts about working with London on the part of China. It’s the same with India in meetings I have just had. There is confidence everywhere in London. Part of that confidence is based on the assumption that when there are issues in London they will be dealt with by London.”

The City is the biggest financial centre in the world and foreign banks are continuing to choose London for their subsidiaries, said Wootton.

We come to the recent succession of scandals, like mis-selling, rate-rigging and money laundering, which must have threatened the international reputation of London.

Sounding a little like a headmaster, Wootton describes the scandals as “bad behaviour” and claims that most incidents were self-reported, “a sign of the high standards that London applies to itself”.

“We have had a series of things which should not have happened,” he said, pointing the failure of mechanisms which should have prevented banks acting against the interest of customers.

“Banks are changing the way they operate,” said Wootton. Time will tell. Indeed, he said: “City businesses need to focus more on the way they do things and the way they make sure they do things right because when you don’t keep to the right standards, ultimately you will be found out.”

During his year in office, which draws to an end on November 9, Wootton has promoted Yorkshire’s wool industry by showcasing the finest textile products at Mansion House, the official residence of the Lord Mayor.

Why wool? “Because it is the thing most obviously associated with Bradford,” he said, although he also could have picked engineering or advanced manufacturing.

Wootton is the son of teachers and his 91-year-old father, a retired headteacher, still lives in Silsden. “He asks me rigorous questions about what the City is doing and I try to satisfy him. I think he’s pleased that a member of the family is able to contribute in this way.”

David Wootton Factfile

Title: Lord Mayor of the City of London

Date of birth: 21.07.50

Education: Cooper Lane Primary School; Horton Bank Top Primary School; Bradford Grammar School; Jesus College at Cambridge University

First job: Working on the refurbishment of C&A in Broadway, Bradford. How can they knock my handiwork down?

Last book read: Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson

Favourite song: Island of Lost Souls by Blondie

Car driven: Lexus hybrid

Holiday destination: Whitby

Most proud of: Children