A new campaign group is pushing to make the secretive City of London Corporation more transparent by attempting to get its supporters elected to the public authority's governing council.
The City Reform Group is calling for candidates in the March City of London elections to sign up to its seven pledges, including a promise to promote transparency as well as responsible business practices at the City of London Corporation, a forceful lobbyist for the financial sector that is its beating heart.
Campaigners say the Square Mile's finance firms and the City of London Corporation that oversees the area must be more open about how they work, as well as ethical in their dealings and serve the needs of communities and customers rather than corporate interests.
They insist they are not a party political organisation, and are simply encouraging better engagement in the democratic process from voters and candidates as a means of reforming the Corporation.
"We have to create pressures on this system, which is so important to the world economy. It is vital to our economy. It is a driver for good. There are no other systems that work better," said David Davis, an influential Conservative MP, who is backing the campaign and sat on the panel at its launch.
Also on the panel was former chancellor of St Paul's Cathedral Giles Fraser, who quit the role because of how the religious institution and City of London Corporation dealt with the Occupy London camp.
"The City of London Corporation and the City has to do much harder work to reconnect with its moral principles and particularly, for me, the idea of the common good," said Giles, who is supporting the City Reform Group campaign.
Giles also lambasted the Corporation for its 2009 statement that it does not have a position on the causes or solutions of the financial crisis which triggered the global economic downturn, describing its position as "a shocker".
"Unfortunately, the City too often backs away from the idea of any sense of its ethical responsibility," said Giles.
The Corporation has come under fire since the financial crisis because of its closeness to banking and its apparent opaqueness as an organisation, despite fundamentally being a public body, despite its other commercial interests.
Not all of its activity, despite its core function as a local authority, is subject to the Freedom of Information Act, though campaigners say it should voluntarily sign up to the law to show it is serious about becoming more open.
They say the Corporation should reveal details about its finances, how it is funded and funds its work, and the levels of tax its commercial arms pay, as well as the historic privileges it enjoys from years of deal-making with successive monarchs and governments in Britain.
It is also criticised for its relationship with the financial services industry, particularly as corporations within its jurisdiction get votes in its council elections.
An investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism recently exposed the £10m lobbying effort by the Corporation to defend its biggest interest, the financial sector.
However, Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors which represents 38,000 leaders of some of the country's biggest firms, defended the Corporation.
Walker sat on the campaign's launch panel and welcomed debate of the future of the City and the Corporation, as well as efforts to engage with it, but did not support the seven pledges.
"I have no criticism to make of the City of London Corporation. In my experience it has done a very good job of promoting the interests of business and particularly of the financial aspects of the City," he said.
"It has kept London at the heart of the international financial sector, and I think that's important.
"I know in addition to that it does a great deal of charitable work and spending on charitable activities.
"Now if people wish to engage with it I think that can only be a good thing, but I'm not going to criticise the Corporation of London.
"In my mind it works rather better than most public institutions that I have had experience of."
City Reform Group's Seven Pledges
- We will promote commerce within the City on the basis of its ability to serve its customers.
- We will allocate resources in order to promote fiduciary standards and responsible business practice.
- We will not be afraid to speak out when we encounter practice that falls below the highest standards.
- We will recognise our responsibility to the common good.
- We will administer the Corporation democratically, efficiently and accountably.
- We will be open and transparent in all our dealings
- As elected officials, each year we will publicly report on how we have met these pledges.