Lord Mayor of City of London Nicholas Lyons forges links with hometown of Bogside-born father
The new Lord Mayor of the City of London has described himself as ‘a proud Irishman’ during a visit to Derry to forge greater ties with the city of his father’s birth.
Alderman Nicholas Lyons, the second consecutive Irishman to hold the office after the recent tenure of Vincent Keaveny, is the son of the late historian Dr. F.S.L. Lyons, who was born in West End Park.
The Lord Mayor took time out from a series of engagements last Friday to visit the Bogside street.
"He was born in Londonderry in 1923,” he told the ‘Journal’. “I was born in Dublin. My parents are both Irish. My father died, unfortunately, 40 years ago but I should think quite a lot of people will have read his seminal book, ‘Ireland since the famine’. He ended up as Provost of Trinity College, Dublin. Yes, I'm a very proud Irishman...I love coming here.”
During his visit Ald. Lyons took part in a roundtable hosted by Catalyst which was focused on unlocking capital to support firms to scale-up and compete internationally.
“I’m very focused on investment and growth and the growth economy, with early stage companies in Fintech, Biotech and Life Sciences,” he said.
Ald. Lyons has worked as an investment banker for over three decades. He told the ‘Journal’ he does not believe the increasing financialization of the UK economy centred in London means the globalised finance district is remote from the nuts-and-bolts economies of the UK peripheries.
He remarked: "What you have just said is a demonstration of how poor the financial services sector and London as a global financial centre have been at telling the story about the importance of financial services to everyday life.
"So if that's your perception that's our problem and we need to remedy it because every aspect of our life, every payment system, every pay cheque that goes into our account, everything we do involves financial services: insurance premiums, mortgages, car insurance.
"Don't forget that during COVID when everybody was in lockdown financial services, continued to perform brilliantly and delivered all of those critical services.
"Often people think about the City as being a place where huge amounts of dollars, stocks and bonds are traded and, of course, that's true. But the basic knitting of financial services is what enables everybody to get on with their lives and get on with things.”
The Lord Mayor believes the sector has a societal role to play as well as a financial one and that energy and financial services firms should support people through the current cost-of-living crisis.
“I was at a British-Irish Chamber dinner with a lot of organisations, all of whom agreed that financial services and utility companies need to find ways to help people through this crisis by thinking about premium waivers on insurance policies, debt repayment deferral schemes.
"We've got a lot of people in this country who are going to struggle through this winter and crisis, who are in work. We need to help.”
In the longer-term Ald. Lyons thinks greater investment in growth companies will be key to growing the economy when we emerge from the current crisis.
"There has not been enough investment in the future of our economy by successive governments frankly and that is in terms of infrastructure, in terms of renewable energy and in terms of the growth economy,” he observed.
Ald. Lyons said start-up companies are often able to secure venture capital to get off the ground but run into problems when they try to scale.
"These companies can get seed funding, they can get early stage funding, but they need much more capital to support them. It is not coming from government at the moment,” he said.
He suggests putting pension capital to work in a massive growth fund to propel the economy.
"There are various initiatives that the government has put out there but it is £1billion here, £2billion there. We actually need a much, much bigger growth fund that can support this and the way we access that is to look very carefully at our pension industry and try and mobilise defined contribution pensions to be able to invest - just a small sliver of the money from there, 5 per cent let's say - in our growth economy, to fund the future. My mayoral theme for the year is ‘financing our future’.”
Ald. Lyons travelled to Derry from Belfast on the train and acknowledged local concerns about gaps in communications and transport provision. He believes pension funds could also be mobilised to fund investment in infrastructure.
"You are not alone in having a frustrating dearth of good infrastructure. It's a problem in lots of parts of the UK. What we do need is much more investment,” he said.
He said the proposed relaxation of EU regulations in financial services announced by the British Chancellor Jeremy Hunt in his autumn statement will ultimately allow long term savings companies to ‘allocate more capital to lending to infrastructure projects’.
"The fact of it is this is the stuff governments should have done. But because of the quantitative-easing that followed the crisis [2007-8], then the COVID-19 crisis, and now the energy crisis, our government has had to borrow very extensively and does not really have the flexibility to do the sort of investment that they should be doing. So we need the private sector to do that,” he says.
Again, he believes pensions, alongside bank savings, could be used for productive long-term investments.
"We have £6trillion in pensions and retail savings. £3trillion of that is in pensions. We can mobilise that - with some regulatory and legislative change – to be able to invest in infrastructure and the growth economy.
"That’s what I'll be focusing on during my year. In doing that, incidentally, we will be democratising the returns from these important asset classes and giving everybody that contributes to their pension a stake in Britain's future.”