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.


Here’s how Henry Ford and IKEA could provide the key to solving the housing crisis

A flatpack house designed by architectural firm Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners, on display at the Royal Academy, London, in 2013. Image: Getty.

For many people, the housing market is not a welcoming place. The rungs of the property ladder seem to get further and further out of reach. There are loud calls to build hundreds of thousands of new homes (and equally loud demands that they’re not built in anyone’s back yard).

If there was ever a time to introduce mass-produced affordable housing, surely that time is now.

The benefits of mass production have been well known since Henry Ford’s car factories made the Model T back in 1908. It was only made in one colour, black, for economic reasons. Not because it was the cheapest colour of paint, but because it was the colour that dried the quickest.

This allowed the production line to operate at faster, more cost effective, speeds. And ultimately, it meant the product could be sold at a more attractive cost to the customer.

This approach, where processes are tested to achieve increasingly efficient production costs, is yet to filter properly into the construction of houses. This makes sense in a way, as not everybody wants exactly the same type of house.

Historically, affordable mass-produced housing removed a large amount of customisations, to ensure final costs were controlled. But there is another way. Builders and architects have the ability to create housing that allows a level of flexibility and customisation, yet also achieves the goal of affordability.

Back in 2006, the “BoKlok” approach to affordable housing was launched to great acclaim in the UK. Literally translated from Swedish, the term means “live smart”. Originally created from a collaboration between flat-pack favourite IKEA and Swedish construction giant Skanska, the BoKlok housing approach was to allow for selected customisation to maximise individuality and choice for the customers. But at the same time, it ensured that larger house building components were duplicated or mass-produced, to bring down the overall costs.

Standard elements – wall panels, doors, windows – were made in large numbers to bring the elemental costs down. This approach ensured the costs were controlled from the initial sketch ideas through to the final design choices offered to the customers. The kitchens and bathrooms were designed to be flexible in terms of adding additional units. Draw and cupboard fronts interchangeable. Small options that provided flexibility, but did not impact on overall affordability.

It’s a simple approach that has worked very well. More than 10,000 BoKlok houses have now been built, mainly in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, with a small number in the UK.

But it is only part of the architectural equation. The affordable housing market is vital, but the cost of making these homes more adaptable is rarely considered.

Flexibility is key. The needs of a house’s inhabitants change. Families can grow (and shrink) and require more room, so the costs of moving house reappear. One clever response to this, in BoKlok homes, has been to allow “built in” flexibility.

Loft living

This flexibility could include a loft space that already has flooring and a built in cupboard on a lower floor which can be simply dismantled and replaced with a “flat-pack style” staircase that can be purchased and installed with minimal disruption to the existing fabric.

Weeks of builders removing walls, plastering and upheaval are replaced by a trip to the IKEA store to purchase the staircase and the booking of a subcontractor to fit it. The original design accounted for this “future option” and is built into the core of the house.

The best approach to new affordable housing should consider combinations of factors that look at design, materials and processes that have yet to be widely used in the affordable housing market.

And the construction sector needs to look over its shoulder at other market places – especially the one that Henry Ford dominated over a century ago. Today’s car manufacturers offer customised options in everything from colour to wheel size, interior gadgets to different kinds of headlamp. These options have all been accounted for in the construction and costing of each model.

The ConversationThey share a similar design “platform”, and by doing so, considerably reduce the overall cost of the base model. The benefit is quicker production with the added benefit of a cost model that allows for customisation to be included. It is a method the construction sector should adopt to produce housing where quality and affordability live happily together.

David Morton, Associate Professor in Architecture and Built Environment, Northumbria University, Newcastle.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.