For London to live up to its promise, employers need to recruit from outside their comfort zone

A teenager opens her A-level results. Image: Getty.

The last year of running for mayor of London has been an amazing and humbling experience. I extend my warmest congratulations to the Conservative candidates who made the shortlist; Zac, Syed, Stephen and Andrew have all worked incredibly hard for the Conservative Party over the years, and are dedicated public servants.

With over 31,000 registered supporters behind me, I’ve come up with a policy list bursting with innovative ideas, and held many dozens of meetings with charities, developers, tech start ups and apprenticeship providers. Now the time has come to really push for a London that is more open, entrepreneurial, inclusive, and, most importantly, socially mobile.

This is the driving force behind the launch of Equal.London: a platform from which we can project this initiative of social change.

My way out of humble beginnings was through entrepreneurship. It was a way of becoming successful without needing an array of top qualifications, or the “polish” and well-travelled CV of my contemporaries. There were zero barriers to entry: I was able to find my way in London, because it was full of opportunity for people with a passion for disruptive ideas that could change the world for the better.

But we cannot build a socially mobile society simply on the backs of budding entrepreneurs and small business owners. If this aspirational society that we all like to talk about is to be a reality for everyone, we must do more to break the glass ceiling to senior positions in top institutions.

The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission’s recent research has exposed a big problem in our professions. While only 7 per cent of the population went to a private school, a quite staggering number of people in top positions in society did: 54 per cent of FTSE 100 CEOs, 71 per cent of senior judges, 62 per cent of senior armed forces officers, 55 per cent of top civil servants, 53 per cent of senior diplomats and 43 per cent of newspaper columnists.

The reasons for this are multifaceted. Many private schools are in a league of their own when it comes to both attainment and the extracurricular activities that they provide: these things do a great deal to build the character of pupils. It’s also true that, while abolishing the 11+ prevented people being condemned to failure at an early age, one of the consequences was that stagnating attainment in comprehensive schools wasn’t properly addressed until the Gove reforms – and in the meantime social mobility has actually gone backwards.  

There are, however, many other factors that have contributed to this growing elitism – and employers themselves must bear some responsibility. Focusing recruitment efforts predominantly on a narrow pool of Russell Group universities, as many top firms do, has its consequences. Who knew, for example, that the Prime Minister, the head of the Downing Street Policy Unit, the chief whip, the chairman of the Conservative party and the rail minister all went to one specific Oxford College, Brasenose? It’s unhealthy for so many powerful people to be drawn from such a narrow pool.

Labour productivity is so low partly because the people most appropriate for certain roles aren’t moving to London: the increase in their housing costs means it simply isn’t worth their while.

While official or unofficial assessment criteria (“polish”) continue to shut out those who would otherwise be well-suited to top roles in our big institutions, it is even worse in organisations that don’t have formal assessments or aptitude tests as part of the interview process. That only increases the power of contacts and nepotism. The same applies to informal internships: the old-boys network is alive and well as soon as you stray away from the Times’ Top 100 employers.

As a businessman and entrepreneur, I know people just want the best for their business. They are simply trying to do a good deed and help out by providing opportunities for their friends’ children. But the system it creates is one of a closed shop; we need to work with businesses to broaden the talent pool and broaden exposure for those less well off.

Another prominent issue is that many of these internships are unpaid. That means that only those who can afford to commute into the capital, or are lucky enough to live with their parents there, can viably do them. This feeds through into jobs in later in life: those who’ve managed to get the experience have far more polished CVs than their less privileged counterparts.

Unless the government and top recruiters tackle these challenges, we will continue to fail generations of young people who want to aim for a standard of living higher than that of their parents.

Part of the solution lies in resolving the housing crisis. Labour productivity is so low partly because the people most appropriate for certain roles aren’t moving to London: the increase in their housing costs means it simply isn’t worth their while.

This is why speeding up the planning process and allowing congruous extensions of properties (along with other reforms announced in the government’s Fixing the Foundations report) is so important. Boosting housing supply will go a long way to encourage social mobility, as well as securing economic growth and lowering living costs.

But I also want the government to launch a review into unpaid internships. It should also attach clear conditions to companies recouping the money they pay through the apprenticeship levy, guaranteeing that recruitment for all their positions is truly fair.

This is the promise of London – to be a beacon both for human rights and for greater opportunities for all. While London is going through unprecedented expansion and success, it will become increasingly difficult to sustain this if opportunity isn’t spread throughout the capital.

The two worlds of Canary Wharf and the borough of Tower Hamlets that surrounds it embody the challenge in this area. How can we foster links between the city and its citizens and boost accessibility? The answers lie both in education, and in employers going out of their comfort zone and widening their search for future talent.

With the launch of Equal.London, I make this my mission for the foreseeable future – to keep making the case for attracting talent wherever it comes from, or however unpolished it is. The world of entrepreneurship understand this. It’s time that the establishment did too – for the sake of London’s, and Britain’s, future.

Ivan Massow is a gay rights campaigner and financial services entrepreneur, and a former candidate for the Conservative Party’s nomination to be the next mayor of London.


More than 830 cities have brought essential services back under public control. Others should follow

A power station near Nottingham: not one owned by Robin Hood Energy, alas, but we couldn't find anything better. Image: Getty.

The wave of cities worldwide rejecting privatization is far bigger and more successful than anyone thought, according to a new report from the Transnational Institute, Reclaiming Public Services: How cities and citizens are turning back privatisation. Some 835 cities in 45 countries have brought essential services like water, energy and health care back under public control.

The persistent myth that public services are by nature more expensive and less efficient is losing its momentum. Citizens and users do not necessarily have to resign to paying increasingly higher tariffs for lower standard services. The decline of working conditions in public services is not an inevitability.

And the ever larger role private companies have played in public service delivery may at last be waning. The remunicipalisation movement – cities or local authorities reclaiming privatised services or developing new options – demonstrates that cities and citizens are working to protect and reinvent essential services.

The failure of austerity and privatisation to deliver promised improvements and investments is part of the reason this movement has advanced. But the real driver has been a desire to meet goals such as addressing climate change or increasing democratic participation in service provision. Lower costs and tariffs, improved conditions for workers and better service quality are frequently reported following remunicipalisation.  Meanwhile transparency and accountability have also improved.

Where remunicipalisation succeeds, it also tends to inspire other local authorities to make similar moves. Examples are plentiful. Municipalities have joined forces to push for renewable, climate-friendly energy initiatives in countries like Germany. Public water operators in France and Catalonia are sharing resources and expertise, and working together to overcome the challenges they meet.

Outside Europe, experiments in public services are gaining ground too. Delhi set up 1,000 Mohalla (community) clinics across the city in 2015 as a first step to delivering affordable primary health care. Some 110 clinics were working in some of the poorest areas of Delhi as of February 2017. The Delhi government claims that more than 2.6m of its poorest residents have received free quality health care since the clinics were set up.

Local authorities and the public are benefiting from savings too. When the Nottingham City Council found out that many low-income families in the city were struggling to pay their energy bills, they set up a new supply company. The company, Robin Hood Energy, which offers the lowest prices in the UK, has the motto: “No private shareholders. No director bonuses. Just clear transparent pricing.”

Robin Hood Energy has also formed partnerships with other major cities. In 2016, the city of Leeds set up the White Rose Energy municipal company to promote simple no-profit tariffs throughout the Yorkshire and Humberside regions. In 2017, the cities of Bradford and Doncaster agreed to join the White Rose/Robin Hood partnership.

Meanwhile, campaigners with Switched on London are pushing their city to set up a not-for-profit energy company with genuine citizen participation. The motivations in these diverse cities are similar: young municipal companies can simultaneously beat energy poverty and play a key role in achieving a just and renewable energy transition.

Remunicipalised public services often involve new forms of participation for workers and citizens. Remunicipalisation is often a first step towards creating the public services of the future: sustainable and grounded in the local economy. Inspiration can be found in the European towns and villages aiming for 'zero waste' with their remunicipalised waste service, or providing 100 per cent locally-sourced organic food in their remunicipalised school restaurants.

Public services are not good simply because they are not private. Public services must also continuously renew themselves, grow, innovate and recommit to the public they serve.

The push for remunicipalisation in Catalonia, for example, has come from a movement of citizen platforms. For them, a return to public management is not just an end in itself, but a first step towards the democratic management of public services based on ongoing civil participation.

Evidence is building that people are able to reclaim public services and usher in a new generation of public ownership. The momentum is building, as diverse movements and actors join forces to bring positive change in communities around the world.

You can read the Transnational Institute report, “Reclaiming Public Services: How cities and citizens are turning back privatisation”, on its website.