Will the City take any lessons from the Games?

The world of finance isn't exactly filled with role models.

With a record-breaking number of golds, London has learnt a key lesson from the Olympics: how to be proud of ambition and success - for the right reasons.

The Games have not just shone a spotlight on sport. London 2012 has made many of us ask ourselves what it is about our own professional or personal lives that we can be truly proud of.

Some say that the pressure to deliver and exceed expectations at the highest level has made our athletes rise to the occasion. We can all learn from them – and nowhere is this lesson more clearly understood than in the Square Mile, where on many desks Olympic screens stood alongside dealing screens.

Allegations of laundering money or fixing rates are just the most recent furores to obscure the City’s reputation. Add in questions over bonuses and concerns about the economic downturn, and is it surprising that some people perceive the City as selfish, self-absorbed, and arrogant? Not exactly role-model material.

Can the City draw on the feel-good factor of the Games?  There is a proper desire among financial services workers to rebuild trust and confidence in the City and what it does. And what is most striking is that some of this work – like that of our Olympians - is pioneered by a new generation. In sport it’s been a whole new parade of heroes; in the City’s case it has also often been young professionals who are keen to inspire others to think and do differently.

Clearly things are changing at all levels of the City - and the autumn will bring clearer evidence of this. But among City workers in their first or second job, one powerful driver of personal change is a new approach to charitable giving. Young bankers, accountants and lawyers are meeting at film events, bars or restaurants, and getting involved in projects and the giving money through crowd-funding pledges from as little as £100 a go – but stretching upwards to much more.

In doing so they are not only delivering social benefits to worthy organisations, they are also developing their own moral compasses – and seeing how they can achieve more than mere financial rewards.

The big change has been that while philanthropy was traditionally perceived as being for those who have retired from a successful career in the City, increasingly a new generation of charitable-givers is embedding the practice throughout their whole career.

With a new initiative, City Philanthropy – A Wealth of Opportunity, which involves the City Funding Network, the City of London Corporation’s City Bridge Trust, and Philanthropy UK, I believe the City is reaching out to create a new climate of giving to deliver social good.

Harnessing the same spirit that has brought us together in the Games, this campaign seeks to create a real step-change in City culture. Philanthropy’s social benefits to beneficiaries are well known – but what is new is the appeal to young city workers of such a meaningful activity which they can embrace throughout their careers. Coming together in this way, young philanthropists can make a real impact – not only through a wealth transfer, but also by fostering a deeper awareness of personal responsibility among City workers.

Clearly changes in the law and its enforcement, in the leadership of banks, and in the process for incentivising effort are all either underway or on their way soon.

But inspiring the next generation in the City to involve themselves in philanthrophy is also part of the answer – and therefore to be welcomed - not just for the success of Europe’s financial hub, but also for the economic and social wellbeing of London and the UK as a whole.

If the Olympics are about anything they are about striving for excellence through effort and with a clear focus on the outcome desired. They are also, famously, about taking part - because of the effect that taking part has on the individual.

Philanthrophy – a good Greek word meaning the love of fellow man – is also about taking part. Taking our part in what it means to be fully a member of the only squad that really counts: Team Human Race.

Tower Bridge. Photograph: Getty Images

David Wootton is the Lord Mayor of the City of London

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North Yorkshire has approved the UK’s first fracking tests in five years. What does this mean?

Is fracking the answer to the UK's energy future? Or a serious risk to the environment?

Shale gas operation has been approved in North Yorkshire, the first since a ban introduced after two minor earthquakes in 2011 were shown to be caused by fracking in the area. On Tuesday night, after two days of heated debate, North Yorkshire councillors finally granted an application to frack in the North York Moors National Park.

The vote by the Tory-dominated council was passed by seven votes to four, and sets an important precedent for the scores of other applications still awaiting decision across the country. It also gives a much-needed boost to David Cameron’s 2014 promise to “go all out for shale”. But with regional authorities pitted against local communities, and national government in dispute with global NGOs, what is the wider verdict on the industry?

What is fracking?

Fracking, or “hydraulic fracturing”, is the extraction of shale gas from deep underground. A mixture of water, sand and chemicals is pumped into the earth at such high pressure that it literally fractures the rocks and releases the gas trapped inside.

Opponents claim that the side effects include earthquakes, polluted ground water, and noise and traffic pollution. The image the industry would least like you to associate with the process is this clip of a man setting fire to a running tap, from the 2010 US documentary Gasland

Advocates dispute the above criticisms, and instead argue that shale gas extraction will create jobs, help the UK transition to a carbon-neutral world, reduce reliance on imports and boost tax revenues.

So do these claims stands up? Let’s take each in turn...

Will it create jobs? Yes, but mostly in the short-term.

Industry experts imply that job creation in the UK could reflect that seen in the US, while the medium-sized production company Cuadrilla claims that shale gas production would create 1,700 jobs in Lancashire alone.

But claims about employment may be exaggerated. A US study overseen by Penn State University showed that only one in seven of the jobs projected in an industry forecast actually materialised. In the UK, a Friends of the Earth report contends that the majority of jobs to be created by fracking in Lancashire would only be short-term – with under 200 surviving the initial construction burst.

Environmentalists, in contrast, point to evidence that green energy creates more jobs than similar-sized fossil fuel investments.  And it’s not just climate campaigners who don’t buy the employment promise. Trade union members also have their doubts. Ian Gallagher, Secretary of Blackburn and District Trade Unions Council, told Friends of the Earth that: “Investment in the areas identified by the Million Climate Jobs Campaign [...] is a far more certain way of addressing both climate change and economic growth than drilling for shale gas.”

Will it deliver cleaner energy? Not as completely as renewables would.

America’s “shale revolution” has been credited with reversing the country’s reliance on dirty coal and helping them lead the world in carbon-emissions reduction. Thanks to the relatively low carbon dioxide content of natural gas (emitting half the amount of coal to generate the same amount of electricity), fracking helped the US reduce its annual emissions of carbon dioxide by 556 million metric tons between 2007 and 2014. Banning it, advocates argue, would “immediately increase the use of coal”.

Yet a new report from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (previously known for its opposition to wind farm applications), has laid out a number of ways that the UK government can meet its target of 80 per cent emissions reduction by 2050 without necessarily introducing fracking and without harming the natural world. Renewable, home-produced, energy, they argue, could in theory cover the UK’s energy needs three times over. They’ve even included some handy maps:


Map of UK land available for renewable technologies. Source: RSPB’s 2050 Energy Vision.

Will it deliver secure energy? Yes, up to a point.

For energy to be “sustainable” it also has to be secure; it has to be available on demand and not threatened by international upheaval. Gas-fired “peaking” plants can be used to even-out input into the electricity grid when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind is not so blowy. The government thus claims that natural gas is an essential part of the UK’s future “energy mix”, which, if produced domestically through fracking, will also free us from reliance on imports tarnished by volatile Russian politics.

But, time is running out. Recent analysis by Carbon Brief suggests that we only have five years left of current CO2 emission levels before we blow the carbon budget and risk breaching the climate’s crucial 1.5°C tipping point. Whichever energy choices we make now need to starting brining down the carbon over-spend immediately.

Will it help stablise the wider economy? Yes, but not forever.

With so many “Yes, buts...” in the above list, you might wonder why the government is still pressing so hard for fracking’s expansion? Part of the answer may lie in their vested interest in supporting the wider industry.

Tax revenues from UK oil and gas generate a large portion of the government’s income. In 2013-14, the revenue from license fees, petroleum revenue tax, corporation tax and the supplementary charge accounted for nearly £5bn of UK exchequer receipts. The Treasury cannot afford to lose these, as evidenced in the last budget when George Osborne further subsidied North Sea oil operations through increased tax breaks.

The more that the Conservatives support the industry, the more they can tax it. In 2012 DECC said it wanted to “guarantee... every last economic drop of oil and gas is produced for the benefit of the UK”. This sentiment was repeated yesterday by energy minister Andrea Leadsom, when she welcomed the North Yorkshire decision and described fracking as a “fantastic opportunity”.

Dependence on finite domestic fuel reserves, however, is not a long-term economic solution. Not least because they will either run out or force us to exceed international emissions treaties: “Pensions already have enough stranded assets as they are,” says Danielle Pafford from 350.org.

Is it worth it? Most European countries have decided it’s not.

There is currently no commercial shale-gas drilling in Europe. Sustained protests against the industry in Romania, combined with poor exploration results, have already caused energy giant Chevron to pull out of the country. Total has also abandonned explorations in Denmark, Poland is being referred to the European Court of Justice for failing to adequately assess fracking’s impact, and, in Germany, brewers have launched special bottle-caps with the slogan “Nein! Zu Fracking” to warn against the threat to their water supply.

Back in the UK, the government's latest survey of public attitudes to fracking found that 44 per cent neither supported nor opposed the practice, but also that opinion is gradually shifting out of favour. If the government doesn't come up with arguments that hold water soon, it seems likely that the UK's fracking future could still be blasted apart.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.