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Brexit & the City: The important role of financial and professional services across the UK

The financial and professional services industry today is vital to the functioning of our economy, it employs 2.2 million people across the country, more than two thirds of these jobs outside of London.

When Queen Victoria opened the fabulous Crystal Palace at the Great Exhibition of 1851 the UK was without a doubt the world’s leading industrial power, controlling more than half of the world’s production of iron, coal, and cotton cloth – the staples of the industrial revolution. This dominance in manufacturing and industrialisation continued for many decades, and even in the 1970s manufacturing contributed more than 25% of the UK’s GDP. While we still lead the world in some areas of manufacturing, particularly high-tech industries such as aerospace, the UK’s most important private industries are now financial and professional services.

The City of London has been a global centre for business for hundreds of years, constantly reinventing itself to reflect the needs of the country and the world. In the 19th century the Pool of London was the busiest port in the world, with thousands of ships docking at London’s wharfs to accommodate the booming industrial trade from the heartland of the UK, known as the workshop of the world. Following the decline in British manufacturing the City has developed itself as a leading centre of finance to service not only British, but European demands for financial and professional services. This outward focus is only matched by the likes of Singapore and Hong Kong. The City is still transforming itself to stay with the times, adding a vibrant fintech industry to the other industries where we are world leading, such as legal services, insurance and shipbroking.

In today’s world, financial services touch our lives every day, with banks and investment firms protecting our money, and helping us save and grow our money for the future. Our investment and savings industry has been so successful that the average pensioner household no longer relies on state benefits for the bulk of its income. Our well established insurance industry ensures that there is ample competition for consumers, allowing best value to be achieved. London’s status as the world’s leading financial hub has contributed to it becoming a centre for green finance and carbon trading.

The financial and professional services industries employ more than 2.2 million people across the country, which equates to roughly one in every fourteen jobs. In fact, two thirds of these jobs outside of London. JP Morgan employs more than 4,000 people in Bournemouth, making it the largest private employer in Dorset. Citibank employs 2,000 people in Belfast. Bank of America Merrill Lynch employs 1,000 people in Chester. These jobs are often high quality, skilled positions, providing fruitful opportunities to new generation of Britons.

These industries are vital to the functioning of our economy, with financial services alone providing more than £66bn in taxes to the exchequer, funding everything from the NHS, to paying the salaries of teachers and soldiers. The UK is the world’s largest exporter of financial services, generating a trade surplus of approximately £47bn a year.

UK banks cater for around four million small businesses, lending to finance expansion and investments that benefit millions of people across the UK. Similarly, large companies from across the world come to London to list their companies on our stock market and raise money to fund expansion and growth.

The financial crisis of 2007-2009 rightly led to questions about the role of financial services in the UK, but many lessons have been learned, and important reforms have been undertaken. Risk is managed much more effectively in banks and lenders across the world, and a more civically minded culture is taking hold.

Having world-class financial and professional services industries are just two of the reasons why London is one of the world’s leading metropolitan areas. London leads the world in art, theatre, architecture and film, drawing experts from all over the world, enriching the lives of millions of people across the capital and country. This is made possible by having a strong and growing economy, with successful companies supporting the arts. The City of London Corporation is the country’s fourth largest funder of culture, after the Government, Lottery and BBC.

The financial services industry is also the most charitable in the UK, giving more than £245 million in cash to charities in 2013 – roughly a third of all charitable donations in the UK. The contribution in kind – most importantly staff time - is even greater.

There needs to be a thorough debate on the issues that Brexit brings up, with businesses carefully assessing the impact of the alternatives and feeding those assessments into the policy-making process. It is important that the Government fully takes into account in the Brexit negotiations the role of the financial and professional services industries, not to protect “the City” but rather to protect jobs, tax revenue and the efficient functioning of the economy.

The UK must continue to have a thriving financial and professional services industry and to remain influential on the international stage, and to continue to be an attractive place to do business. This should be the guiding principle in the Brexit negotiations, not abstract notions of hard or soft Brexit.

Mark Boleat, Policy and Resources Chairman, City of London Corporation.

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Love a good box set? Then you should watch the Snooker World Championships

The game relies on a steady arm, which relies on a steady nerve. The result is a slow creeping tension needs time and space to be properly enjoyed and endured. 

People are lazy and people are impatient. This has always been so – just ask Moses or his rock – but as illustrated by kindly old Yahweh, in those days they could not simply answer those impulses and stroll on.

Nowadays, that is no longer so. Twitter, YouTube and listicles reflect a desire for complex and involved issues, expansive and nuanced sports – what we might term quality – to be condensed into easily digestible morsels for effort-free enjoyment.

There is, though, one notable exception to this trend: the box set. Pursuing a novelistic, literary sensibility, it credits its audience with the power of sentience and tells riveting stories slowly, unfolding things in whichever manner that it is best for them to unfold.

In the first episode of the first series of The Sopranos, we hear Tony demean his wife Carmela's irritation with him via the phrase “always with the drama”; in the seventh episode of the first series we see his mother do likewise to his father; and in the 21st and final episode of the sixth and final series, his son uses it on Carmela. It is precisely this richness and this care that makes The Sopranos not only the finest TV show ever made, but the finest artefact that contemporary society has to offer. It forces us to think, try and feel.

We have two principal methods of consuming art of this ilk - weekly episode, or week-long binge. The former allows for anticipation and contemplation, worthy pursuits both, but of an entirely different order to the immersion and obsession offered by the latter. Who, when watching the Wire, didn’t find themselves agreeing that trudat, it's time to reup the dishwasher salt, but we’ve run out, ain’t no thing. Losing yourself in another world is rare, likewise excitement at where your mind is going next.

In a sporting context, this can only be achieved via World Championship snooker. Because snooker is a simple, repetitive game, it is absorbing very quickly, its run of play faithfully reflected by the score.

But the Worlds are special. The first round is played over ten frames – as many as the final in the next most prestigious competition – and rather than the usual week, it lasts for 17 magical days, from morning until night. This bestows upon us the opportunity to, figuratively at least, put away our lives and concentrate. Of course, work and family still exist, but only in the context of the snooker and without anything like the same intensity. There is no joy on earth like watching the BBC’s shot of the championship compilation to discover that not only did you see most of them live, but that you have successfully predicted the shortlist.

It is true that people competing at anything provides compelling drama, emotion, pathos and bathos - the Olympics proves this every four years. But there is something uniquely nourishing about longform snooker, which is why it has sustained for decades without significant alteration.

The game relies on a steady arm, which relies on a steady nerve. The result is a slow creeping tension needs time and space to be properly enjoyed and endured. Most frequently, snooker is grouped with darts as a non-athletic sport, instead testing fine motor skills and the ability to calculate angles, velocity and forthcoming shots. However, its tempo and depth is more similar to Test cricket – except snooker trusts so much in its magnificence that it refuses to compromise the values which underpin it.

Alfred Hitchcock once explained that if two people are talking and a bomb explodes without warning, it constitutes surprise; but if two people are talking and all the while a ticking bomb is visible under the table, it constitutes suspense. “In these conditions,” he said, “The same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: ‘You shouldn't be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!’”

Such is snooker. In more or less every break, there will at some point be at least one difficult shot, loss of position or bad contact – and there will always be pressure. Add to that the broken flow of things – time spent waiting for the balls to stop, time spent prowling around the table, time spent sizing up the table, time spent cleaning the white, time spent waiting for a turn – and the ability for things to go wrong is constantly in contemplation.

All the more so in Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre. This venue, in its 40th year of hosting the competition, is elemental to its success. Place is crucial to storytelling, and even the word “Crucible” – whether “a ceramic or metal container in which metals or other substances may be melted or subjected to very high temperatures,” “a situation of severe trial”, or Arthur Miller’s searing play – conjures images of destruction, injustice and nakedness. And the actual Crucible is perhaps the most atmospheric arena in sport - intimate, quiet, and home to a legendarily knowledgeable audience, able to calculate when a player has secured a frame simply by listening to commentary through an earpiece and applauding as soon as the information is communicated to them.

To temper the stress, snooker is also something incredibly comforting. This is partly rooted in its scheduling. Working day and late-night sport is illicit and conspiratorial, while its presence in revision season has entire cohorts committing to “just one more quick frame”, and “just one more quick spliff”. But most powerfully of all, world championship snooker triggers memory and nostalgia, a rare example of something that hasn’t changed, as captivating now as it was in childhood.

This wistfulness is complemented by sensory pleasure of the lushest order. The colours of both baize and balls are the brightest, most engaging iterations imaginable, while the click of cue on ball, the clunk of ball on ball and the clack of ball on pocket is deep and musical; omnipresent and predictable, they combine for a soundtrack that one might play to a baby in the womb, instead of whale music or Megadeth.

Repeating rhythms are also set by the commentators, former players of many years standing. As is natural with extended coverage of repetitive-action games, there are numerous phrases that recur:

“We all love these tactical frames, but the players are so good nowadays that one mistake and your opponent’s in, so here he is, looking to win the frame at one visit ... and it’s there, right in the heart of the pocket for frame and match! But where’s the cue ball going! it really is amazing what can happen in the game of snooker, especially when we’re down to this one-table situation.”

But as omniscient narrators, the same men also provide actual insight, alerting us to options and eventualities of which we would otherwise be ignorant. Snooker is a simple game but geometry and physics are complicated, so an expert eye is required to explain them intelligibly; it is done with a winning combination of levity and sincerity.

The only essential way in which snooker is different is the standard of play. The first round of this year’s draw featured eight past winners, only two of whom have made it to the last four, and there were three second-round games that were plausible finals.

And just as literary fiction is as much about character as plot, so too is snooker. Nothing makes you feel you know someone like studying them over years at moments of elation and desolation, pressure and release, punctuated by TV confessions of guilty pleasures, such as foot massages, and bucket list contents, such as naked bungee jumping.

It is probably true that there are not as many “characters” in the game as once there were, but there are just as many characters, all of whom are part of that tradition. And because players play throughout their adult life, able to establish their personalities, in unforgiving close-up, over a number of years, they need not be bombastic to tell compelling stories, growing and undergoing change in the same way as Dorothea Brooke or Paulie Gualtieri.

Of no one is this more evident that Ding Junhui, runner-up last year and current semi-finalist this; though he is only 30, we have been watching him almost half his life. In 2007, he reached the final of the Masters tournament, in which he faced Ronnie O’Sullivan, the most naturally talented player ever to pick up a cue – TMNTPETPUAC for short. The crowd were, to be charitable, being boisterous, and to be honest, being pricks, and at the same time, O’Sullivan was playing monumentally well. So at the mid-session interval, Ding left the arena in tears and O’Sullivan took his arm in consolation; then when Ding beat O’Sullivan in this year’s quarter-final, he rested his head on O’Sullivan’s shoulder and exchanged words of encouragement for words of respect. It was beautiful, it was particular, and it was snooker.

Currently, Ding trails Mark Selby, the “Jester from Leicester” – a lucky escape, considering other rhyming nouns - in their best of 33 encounter. Given a champion poised to move from defending to dominant, the likelihood is that Ding will remain the best player never to win the game’s biggest prize for another year.

Meanwhile, the other semi-final pits Barry Hawkins, a finalist in 2013, against John Higgins, an undisputed great and three-time champion. Higgins looks likely to progress, and though whoever wins through will be an outsider, both are eminently capable of taking the title. Which is to say that, this weekend, Planet Earth has no entertainment more thrilling, challenging and enriching than events at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield.

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