The Lord Mayor of the City of London, wearing a pinstripe suit and his Badge of Office, an 1802 blue-ribboned medallion with 257 diamonds on it, is decidedly not Ken Livingstone, the left-wing firebrand mayor of London, with whom he is often confused by foreign bankers.

John Stuttard, the current Lord Mayor, is the 679th person to hold the post – the first recorded one took office in 1189, a few hundred years after the City was granted a measure of autonomy. In some ways the City is still as independent as it was during the 1850s Crimean War, when it backed Russia by continuing to underwrite the country’s sovereign bonds even as Russia fought against an alliance in which the UK was included. Or when it backed the winning side in the 1770s American War of Independence against the Kingdom of Great Britain, showing a cleverness and a global perspective that has stood it in good stead.

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Financial champion

Mr Stuttard, a 62-year-old accountant who spent his working life at the various incarnations of accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), is the head of the City of London Corporation, which, on the one hand, provides the usual governmental services to the Square Mile and, on the other, lobbies on behalf of the financial services industry. A former Lord Mayor says that Michael Snyder, chairman of the policy and resources committee at the Corporation, who reports to the Lord Mayors who change every year, is now the real power. But Mr Stuttard, interviewed in his office-cum-living quarters, the palatial Georgian Mansion House argues, convincingly, that the job is so big it needs to be split.

It looks as though Mr Snyder is in charge of the more banal aspects of the job while the Lord Mayor focuses on selling the City – rather than just the historic geographic entity, this now stands as shorthand for the financial services industry in the UK, including fund management in Edinburgh, investment banking at Canary Wharf and the hedge fund industry in London’s swish Mayfair – to the UK government and abroad.

Lobbying the UK government has become an easier job as free-spending chancellor Gordon Brown has realised the attractions of the City. The UK’s finance minister, in a clear bid to distance himself politically from what he saw as the Mammon-worshipping elites, wore a suit to his first white-tie Mansion House Banker’s Dinner in 1997, an annual event that brings together a ‘Who’s-Who’ of financial services.

City fan

Now, he is a fan of the City. The boom in financial services means the industry is responsible for £12bn (€18bn) in income tax, about 12% of all income tax receipts, and about one quarter of all corporate tax for 2004-05, according to figures from the HM Revenue and Customs department.

As for promoting the City abroad, Mr Stuttard is lucky to have taken on the role when the City is seen as having outflanked New York, let alone Frankfurt. Who remembers the dark days just before the creation of the euro when City figures filled the pages of UK newspapers with alarmist opinion pieces predicting the crown passing from London to Frankfurt?

A few statistics suffice to prove London’s global ascendance, ranging from it being the world’s leading market for international insurance, to its 42% global share of turnover in over-the-counter derivatives, to its number one place in arranging international bank lending and its 43% share of the global foreign equity market.

Lancashire roots

Many more pages could be filled with details of its pre-eminent role, but sitting back and basking in the City’s success is not on the Lord Mayor’s agenda. Coming from Lancashire, a region of the UK famous for its cotton mills, Mr Stuttard saw more than one million jobs and virtually the whole industry disappear by the 1970s, and is fully aware of how even more geographically mobile professional jobs are.

Thus he is heavily involved in the government’s initiative, launched last year, to boost the City abroad. That is also behind his focus on skills for his year in office. It includes promoting London in places such as China and the Gulf as a centre of excellence for achieving professional qualifications and business education.

The enemy within

Dealing with threats such as Shanghai’s rise as a financial centre and financial regulation emanating at the EU level from Brussels is one thing. But sometimes the enemy is within. Of the hundreds of thousands of highly skilled foreign nationals working in the City, many take advantage of the UK’s favourable tax rules on domicile whereby non-domiciled residents are not taxed on their income earned abroad.

Mr Brown, similarly to past chancellors from the Conservative Party, has reportedly not entirely given up his hankering to change those rules, although it could lead to an exodus of the highly mobile foreign professionals.

After all, in a country where income inequality is growing, it is a political minefield to defend the advantageous tax situation for many foreigners earning astronomical bonuses.

Bravely, Mr Stuttard entered the fray justifying high salaries through a signed article in the Financial Times in December where he, nonetheless, pointed out that “a carpenter born in the Middle East would need to have worked for two millenniums [without interest] to amass the $50m that one modern City ‘rainmaker’ has just collected”.

“It is not up to the Lord Mayor to defend them,” he says, and yet then does so by talking about tax receipts and the many schools and hospitals these equate to. In any case, “it is much better that Gordon Brown collects it than the finance minister of Beijing or Cyprus,” says Mr Stuttard.

A big job

Speaking in the third person is something many Lord Mayors end up doing during their term of office. The job is larger than the person and, critics say, has not attracted the best candidates due to historic anomalies to do with who can aspire to the post. Some of the lack of meritocracy in the requirements process has been ironed out in recent years through various reforms.

Will Mr Stuttard be a good Lord Mayor?

Someone who has known him for more than 30 years says that his reputation at PwC was as “the first to arrive and the last to leave” and “very hard-working”. The same person, whose company Mr Stuttard audited in his role as an audit partner, pointed out that auditors can be “deadly boring”.

The Lord Mayor, who was executive chairman of Coopers & Lybrand’s China business in the second half of the 1990s, defends his profession from the enduring stereotype. He admits that having spent his years at Cambridge University on the stage – as well as reading for an economics degree – his career choice was seen by his thespian friends as ‘the kiss of death’. But the married father of two boys insists that the mix of industries and people encountered makes the profession much more varied and interesting than it is given credit for.

His clients have included the UK’s Chessington Zoo, Oxford University Press and the Ford Motor Company in Dagenham, Essex, in the 1960s, as well as a host of Scandinavian companies during his stint as chairman of the Scandinavian Group at Coopers & Lybrand.

LSE independence

And, confounding another stereotype about auditors, he does have a heart. He admits that the issue of the London Stock Exchange’s independence is one where “heart and head” must be separated.

“Great if it remains independent, but at the end of the day market forces are the key thing,” he says, noting that Nasdaq’s interest is a sign of tremendous confidence in London.

There is a lot of pomp and ceremony involved in his current job – the accompanying photo, for instance, shows the Lord Mayor travelling from the City of London in his gilded coach to swear allegiance to the Sovereign in front of her representatives in the Royal Courts of Justice. But one of the UK’s strengths is its mix of history and modernity. In many ways, the Lord Mayor epitomises that. It does not impede his working closely with Mr Livingstone on issues such as improving London’s transport.

Meanwhile, his packed 12-month schedule, with duties and visits from morning until night, is aimed at ensuring financial services, which contribute about 10% of the UK’s gross domestic product, continues to be the fastest growing sector in the UK.