Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 August 2020

London Lord Mayor tells of the art of broader financial ties with Abu Dhabi on Emirates trip

Establishing new partnerships in fintech, green finance and culture top William Russell’s agenda

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 05: (L-R) Oliver Sells QC, and the Lord Mayor of the City of London, William Russell and his wife Hilary Chaplin attend an event to switch on the Christmas lights at St Paul's Cathedral on December 5, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Hollie Adams/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 05: (L-R) Oliver Sells QC, and the Lord Mayor of the City of London, William Russell and his wife Hilary Chaplin attend an event to switch on the Christmas lights at St Paul's Cathedral on December 5, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Hollie Adams/Getty Images)

With a Hollywood A-lister for a brother, it is not surprising that William Russell has a strong appreciation of arts and culture.

What is remarkable is the way the Lord Mayor of London, whose half-sibling is Homeland actor Damian Lewis, sees the “arts space” as a major talking point when he holds meetings with senior leaders this week in Abu Dhabi.

As a centrepiece of world finance, the City of London is not often thought about beyond balance sheets and trading screens. Mr Russell, 54, regards a modernisation of the City’s image as vital to its position as a leading business centre.

Before travelling to Abu Dhabi, where he hopes to meet top investors including Mubadala and Masdar today, Mr Russell told The National how the UAE was helping the City as it changes.

“The UAE’s leaders recognise that the more culture you can add to an environment, the more attractive the city becomes,” he said. “I’ve been brought up with a culture of the arts being important. I want to highlight that the City of London is the fourth largest spender on culture and the arts in the UK.

“Here in the City of London we have the Barbican, the Museum of London and we have the London Symphony Orchestra. These are all things that resonate when I travel.”

As holder of a post that dates from the 12th century, Mr Russell sees the sustainable future of the planet as a new and growing focus for the Square Mile. During his Abu Dhabi trip, he hopes the two sides can swap ideas on innovation.

“Part of continuing the great relationship we have is working on sustainability as well as the great work on fintech and life sciences we do together,” he said. “Green finance and sustainable development financing is where fintech was a few years ago and is a huge opportunity for London and the UAE.”

Pointing to green bonds issued by UAE entities, Mr Russell spoke of his hopes the UK government would issue an environment-focused gilt this year. One fast-emerging theme is providing financing platforms to help meet zero-carbon goals set by policymakers.

“I’m talking about the whole area of transition,” he said. “We need to get to where we want companies to be with transition bonds. Yes we’ve got the green bonds but we have to get to the right place as fast as possible for the zero-carbon dates that we’ve set ourselves through transition bonds as well.”

After more than three years of instability since the EU referendum to leave the bloc, a general election in December provided Boris Johnson with the prospect of single-party rule for five years.

Britain is set to leave the EU on January 31 and Mr Russell said: “We’ve got a bit more clarity in the UK after the election and we’re looking forward to continuing investment in London and the UK. The election was very important with people saying ‘right, we can now invest’.”

London’s perennial tussle with New York as the leading international business centre is unlikely to be upended by the reordering of the relationship with Europe. Instead the City’s leadership is looking at how to attract Generation Z talents.

As a local authority in one of the busiest parts of London, the City of London recently closed a road to diesel and petrol-powered vehicles. Mr Russell believes the City needs to attract new types of workers.

“A lot of the younger generation don’t see the City as an exciting place to work but this generation is looking at having a career with a social purpose, and is looking at creativity skills. Those talents, when you get them to join financial services, are people who are thinking in an innovate way, thinking in a disruptive way and are better quality talent.”

Updated: January 12, 2020 10:36 PM

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