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Business Comment

James Ashton: Business must be willing to pay up if it wants to benefit from the arts

They can’t have it both ways if they aren’t prepared to dip into their own pockets

It was one of those nights which serve as a reminder of the closeness of business and the arts. Tuesday evening saw the great and the good of the City at the British Museum for a special viewing of the Pompeii and Herculaneum exhibition.

Greenhill, the investment bank marking its first 15 years in Europe with the event, welcomed everyone from Santander chairman Lord Burns to property veteran Sir John Ritblat and banker-turned-headhunter Oliver Pawle. Incongrously, even football pundit Alan Hansen was sipping the fizz.

It’s a commonplace occurrence across the City, where the best networking takes place while pretending to know something about the art on display.

Business looks good when it is aligned with high culture, and, financially, museums and theatres need its backing – especially since corporate giving fell off a cliff with the financial crisis five years ago and is showing scant signs of recovery. With central government arts funding under pressure too, there is a question mark over how many institutions can carry on.

The first contribution of  Sir Peter Bazalgette to this debate as the new chairman of Arts Council England was to call for a “grand partnership” of local government and business philanthropy.

Those in London needn’t worry. Most private arts money in this country flows into the capital’s largest institutions, such as the National Theatre, where Travelex tycoon Lloyd Dorfman is paying £10m towards the £70m redevelopment of the Cottesloe.

But outside the capital is a different story. There, private backing is scarce and local businesses complain to the council when arts funding is pulled because it affects the quality of life for staff they are trying to retain in the area. They can’t have it both ways if they aren’t prepared to dip into their own pockets. So how do you forge an alliance that runs deeper than the canape circuit to benefit both sides?

Jenkins’ Barclays vow looks unconvincing 

Barclays this week joined forces with former Dragon Doug Richard’s School for Startups to support social entrepreneurs.

Five winners of a contest they are running will win a year’s worth of “intensive support” to grow their organisation plus a trip to a global forum in Johannesburg for young leaders.

The bank also used the latest labour statistics and youth unemployment numbers as an opportunity to remind the world about its LifeSkills programme, launched last month. Its aim is to equip one million young people with the skills they need to get jobs, as well as create 50,000 work experience placements alongside McDonald’s and Centrica.

It is all laudable stuff, and fits nicely with Barclays chief executive Antony Jenkins’ vision for the lender as an upstanding member of the community. But projects such as these are largely redundant in swaying perceptions while the self-satisfied grin of Rich Ricci dominates every newspaper.

The exit of Barclays’ larger-than-life investment-banking chief was overdue, and not just because of the Budget-day row that blew up over his £18m share award. How Mr Jenkins thought he could reboot Barclays as a caring, sharing bank while the tweed-wearing, racehorse-owning associate of Bob Diamond and emblem of all that had gone before still sat around the executive meeting table is anyone’s guess.

His presence make a mockery of Mr Jenkins’ sombre, five-word credo for the new Barclays – respect, integrity, service, stewardship and excellence – which is impossible to miss if you pay a visit to the bank’s Canary Wharf headquarters.

No amount of breakfasting with charities, as Mr Jenkins did in February the day after his relaunch, will convince people this company has moved on until the personnel that got it into trouble in the first place have been moved on too. The fact that Mr Jenkins didn’t get that to begin with raises questions over how complete this reworking of Barclays will be.

It is now 27 months since  Mr Diamond told the Treasury Select Committee that the time for remorse is over and the debate should move on from bankers’ pay. He called it early, to say the least.

Given the back-pedalling of the last few months, let’s hope that  Mr Jenkins hasn’t promised what he can’t deliver.

Dame Marjorie  breaks her silence

You could hear the sense of relief this week as Dame Marjorie Scardino took to the stage to deliver a speech.

The former boss of Pearson, owner of the Financial Times, has kept her own counsel on many issues of business and politics since 1997.

When she took the job, she resolved not to lean on the editorial line that the Pink ’Un should take, unlike some newspaper proprietors. I imagine that can’t always have been easy. She was known for strong ideals earlier in her life, campaigning for civil rights while at university in Texas.

Since she retired in January, and handed on the reins of what is now the world’s largest education group to John Fallon, Dame Marjorie has been free to speak  her mind.

So what did she say? Dame Marjorie believes British businesses will ultimately come out in favour of the European Union in any referendum. And the EU needs leaders in the mould of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln to lead it out of its current crisis.

In the week that Margaret Thatcher was laid to rest, business leaders would echo that.