Accountant elected City alderman in one-man contest

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The Independent Online
WILL BENNETT

The election in the Castle Baynard ward of the City of London yesterday was never likely to be a tight contest even if more than one candidate had been proposed for the vacancy of alderman.

In the event, the electorate of 358 was spared the trouble of going to the polls as the only candidate was Richard Agutter, head of mergers and acquisitions at KPMG, Britain's second biggest accountancy firm which has a fee income of more than pounds 500m a year.

Had there been opposition he would have enjoyed the kind of head start which parliamentary by-election candidates would envy. Partners in his firm provide 227 of the voters, almost two-thirds of the total. Furthermore, the meeting - known as a ward mote - at which his election was approved yesterday was held at KPMG's offices in Puddle Dock in the City.

Another 70 votes come from Stephenson Harwood, a firm of solicitors in St Paul's churchyard; 24 from Simpson Curtis, another legal partnership; 18 from other companies and 19 from local residents. Candidates have to be on the electoral roll and be proposed by two other voters.

At at a time when it is coming under increasing criticism for its archaic and undemocratic ways, the Corporation of London, which runs Britain's financial heart in the Square Mile, continues in its traditional manner.

The City, which has a small permanent population of 4,000 swelled by more than 300,000 others who commute to work there each day is the only local authority to retain the business vote. Owners and tenants of commercial premises have the franchise.

Last week, Malcolm Matson, a millionaire businessman who was elected as an alderman but subsequently blackballed without being given a reason, won his case in the Court of Appeal. Judges ruled that the 24 other members of the Court of Aldermen must explain their decision.

Yesterday the Corporation, which has many of the functions of a county council within the City of London, refused to say whether its would change its election procedures. This will be discussed at a meeting on 19 September. A Corporation spokeswoman said: "There will be no change in the situation until the end of next month when the ramifications of the judgment will be discussed."

Mr Matson said: "I believe that the good government of the City has got to be good for everyone to the extent that it has got to be open, fair and democratic."

The aldermen will also discuss whether Mr Agutter, 54, is a suitable person to join their ranks. They decided that Mr Matson, a grammar school boy who made good, was not a "fit and proper person" to join a body comprised overwhelmingly of those who went to top public schools such as Eton and Harrow.

Mr Agutter will be replacing Sir Greville Spratt, educated at Charterhouse and a former Coldstream Guards officer, who is a member of Lloyd's and a former Lord Mayor of London, who has decided to stand down.

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