Everything is now virtual
No one will have missed the fact that where we cannot meet together face to face, it is happening online. For families and friends that is just about learning a new skill and downloading the App ( and dressing neatly from the waist up). For the City of London Corporation this was a legal impossibility. Like all local authorities it was not allowed for meetings to take place online. For voting and a quorum to count then you had to be physically present in the room. The Coronavirus Act changed this overnight so that local authority meetings and the City Corporation committees can operate remotely. The pattern of such meetings started a couple of weeks ago. As part of most meetings are open to the public then this element had to be made possible and the public element of all committees are live streamed on YouTube. The details of the meetings and the public papers are on the City’s website and the link is here, in case you want to tune in. http://democracy.cityoflondon.gov.uk/mgCalendarMonthView.aspx?GL=1&bcr=1
First virtual Court of Aldermen
Whilst not strictly a local authority meeting, the Court of Aldermen also met in a virtual way on May 12th. This was an auspicious day as it was the International Day of the Nurse in the Year of the Nurse. What a year the nurses and other care workers are having. What you might recall from my book is that one of the roles of the Court of Aldermen is to regulate Livery Companies and to approve new ones. The process involves the organisation being recognised as a Guild, then as a Company without Livery and then as a Livery Company. The Guild of Nurses formed only 4 years ago were ready to move forward to become a Company without Livery. What better date for this to be authorised than the nursing anniversary to beat all – Florence Nightingale’s 200th birthday. The members of the new Company were able to watch live on YouTube.
Been to your Library recently?
The City Corporation’s library service is now online and e-books are providing a enjoyable way to beat the lockdown. The City of London revealed that the top reads downloaded by bookworms include the memoir by former US First Lady, Michelle Obama, Becoming and the wonderful Neapolitan saga of love, betrayal and friendship by Elena Ferrante, My Brilliant Friend.
Other readers are busy brushing up their languages as well, especially French, German, English, Latin American Spanish, and Italian. Whose knows when they will be able to travel to use these linguistic skills?
There is a music library as well and the top tracks streamed are Artie Shaw, Concerto for clarinet, Saint Saens, Bassoon Sonata in G major op 168, Duke Ellington / Juan Tizol, Caravan, Poulenc, Clarinet Sonata FP 184 and Mendelssohn, Song without words. Quite an eclectic choice.
Whilst home visits to some of the elderly and infirm are suspended, library staff are making weekly befriending calls to the elderly and people who are shielding because of underlying health conditions which could make them vulnerable to coronavirus.
Extra stock has been acquired to help with home schooling and staff are giving people one-to-one IT tuition so they can learn how to get connected with friends and family through conference link ups such as Zoom.
Graham Packham, who chairs the culture, heritage and libraries committee, said: “Our libraries are much more than just places where books are borrowed, and the range of important services that are being delivered since the closures are needed more than ever during these difficult times.”
If you want to join in you don’t need to live or work in the City you can join here https://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/services/libraries-and-archives/start-using-our-libraries/Pages/Join-a-library.aspx
Preparing for the return to work
Transport for London are making preparations for the return to work and surveying businesses as to their intentions. Local intelligence suggests that the return will be phased with some 20-40% of staff returning on a staggered basis – but not just yet. A paper going before the Planning and Transportation Committee this week (another virtual online meeting) will be looking at how the streets and public spaces in the City need to be reviewed. Pavements may need to be widened to allow social distancing and more space created for a likely influx of cyclists. It even suggests an indicative 15mph speed limit should be observed as the pedestrian numbers might be larger with more walking to work. The City Corporation’s business plans are based around Supporting businesses in the immediate crisis; Sustaining the economy through it and Speeding the recovery. The Corporation’s website signposts businesses and residents to support and help and the various schemes aimed at assistance. The Lord Mayor and the Chair of Policy and Resources are working closely with businesses and trade groups to listen to the concerns and work with them to provide the engagement needed. The City has bounced back before from terrible situations and its exceptional resilience and its ingenuity is needed above all now.
Freedom of the City for Captain Tom Moore
A virtual freedom ceremony – another first for hero Captain Tom Moore.
You can view it here on YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E0DhZsmH39M
The City of London is now adjusting to a new normal of fewer cars and lorries and certainly a lot less foot traffic. The air is clearer and the birdsong rings out clearly; clashing only with the occasional siren and church bells. However the City is on board and not at sea, and businesses are actively working from home – just not in their usual workplaces.
Whilst the City Corporation works hard to keep services operating, I notice a bit more rubbish on the streets and a creeping (small) amount of graffiti. I am torn between reporting a low priority matter and wanting the City to look its best when everyone (or at least a few people) start to come back to work here. The road works on Cheapside and at Bank Junction are still there. It has not been possible within the social distancing rules for them to be continued and completed at this time. They will be familiar sites when you return.
Pan London response The City of London Corporation with the 32 London Boroughs have long made preparations for the impacts of a pandemic. Councils across the country are required under the Civil Contingencies Act (2004) to make plans for maintaining vital services during “civil emergencies” and, in the words of 2018 government good practice guidance, to “protect, advise and provide humanitarian assistance” to residents and “play a major role in community leadership and recovery, going beyond the usual hours of work”.
When any emergency situation or major “disruptive incident” arises affecting London as a whole, a Strategic Co-ordination Group (SCG) is formed as a decision-making body with the job of co-ordinating and mobilising the efforts of all the many organisations involved. This SCG is being led by the City’s Town Clerk and Chief Executive, John Barradell, working with other London Borough Chief Executives and the Mayor of London’s office. Working with a traditional gold, silver and bronze command structure across London, they co-ordinate thinking and actions and mitigate problems. This includes liaison with all the blue light services and bringing together the third sector of charities and faith groups in order to meet all the needs. If an area is identified as being critical, as food shortages amongst the most vulnerable and at food banks, then the cross London co-ordination can bring help where it is most urgently needed.
The Civic Team The City Corporation have decided that the extraordinary times mean thinking out of the box and that the best way to keep much needed continuity in our leadership is to keep the current Lord Mayor, Alderman William Russell, and Sheriffs Alderman Michael Mainelli and Chris Hayward in post for another year. Amongst other implications this gets over the need for the June Common Hall election of Sheriffs which would have been difficult in the current lockdown. The Chief Commoner changes post in April and that election took place last September. This seemed to be an easy changeover and so the City has thanked Deputy Tom Hoffman for his year and the new Chief Commoner from April 23rd is Deputy Brian Mooney. Brian represents Queenhithe Ward. He is a prize-winning journalist and author, and worked for Reuters for 30 years in more than 50 countries. He has worked in international PR and has published six books.
A new Recorder of the City of London
The senior judge at the Old Bailey is the Recorder of London. The previous Recorder, HHJ Nicholas Hilliard QC was promoted to the High Court Bench at the end of 2019 and a new Recorder has been appointed by the Court of Aldermen and endorsed by HM Courts and Tribunal Service. He is HHJ Mark Lucraft QC. He is currently the Chief Coroner, based at the Old Bailey. He will take on some of the responsibilities of leadership at the Old Bailey with immediate effect. However, in the light of pressures on the coronial system as a result of the current pandemic, Judge Lucraft QC will remain in post as the Chief Coroner. He has agreed to do so over the coming months and this dual role will be kept under review. He will be busy!
Museum of London to start Covid-19 collection The Museum of London has appealed to the public to help it build up a Covid-19 collection – made up of objects and first-hand experiences to reflect Londoners’ lives during the outbreak. These will be vital as London seeks to understand what has changed and what is the same and how it compares to previous outbreaks and disasters that have hit the City. There are three parts to the collection to focus on: how the physical spaces in the city have been transformed, while the social and working lives of many have moved digital; the effects on key and home workers; and how children and young people are reacting to and coping with the changes now
that many schools are closed. Objects that may find their way into the collection can be both physical and digital, and donations will be welcomed from any London resident via social media or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It seems a good time for us all to marshal our thoughts around the Covid-19 crisis and consider what we want to collect, what get rid of (sustainably) and how things will be different hereafter. A challenge for us individually and collectively as for certain things will not be the same. Our task is to make them better.