Stuart entertained us with a brilliant and thought-provoking description of London's path to success - from its founding by Brutus of Troy - to its present day profile as a leading services centre. The statistics are compelling; 85% of London's workforce is employed in the services sector, the highest of any capital city in the world, 100 of the Fortune 500 companies are based in London, as are 4 of the 6 largest law firms and 2 of its universities are in the top ten in the world. Notably, two million of the 7.6 million residents were not born in the UK - so London is truly a hub, a gateway to, and magnet for, the rest of the world.
But is London's success sustainable? Stuart posited two future scenarios; the depressing first, a City in decline, with immigration restricted, tax breaks removed and Financial Services companies gradually drifting away to other more welcoming locations around the globe:
"A strand of the fabric of London is pulled and the tapestry of the talent starts to trickle away and buyers and sellers start to set up in another place as they try to attract customers..."
The second more positive scenario is of a City which recognises and promotes its strength as a services hub - not in the commoditised areas (we can't compete with the workforces of India or China) but a centre of excellence for setting standards for the rest of the world in key services sectors - engineering, law, accounting, media & creative and financial. Achieving this will enable London to continue to attract the best talent and create demand for the workforce on projects all around the globe.
Stuart prompted the audience to discuss likely outcomes, but before doing that he prevailed upon Government and other opinion leaders to recognise and understand the services industry and not to opt out of vigorously competing with other Cities who want to take what London has.
Stuart's reputation precedes him and this subject obviously appealed,this being the best attended Cellar Club event yet. It was again held in the Vaults at the RSA - a venue appropriately redolent of London's history.
Stuart Popham has been described as 'the most connected lawyer in the City': he recently retired as senior partner of Clifford Chance and is currently Chair of TheCityUK, which represents the UK financial services industry.
The Cellar Club is a regular networking event run by Gracechurch, attended by opinion formers and senior decision makers from major financial, professional and advisory businesses.