Maybe it's because they're London banks, they don't pay the living wage

My Week

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The Independent Online

At the London Conference on Tuesday, a one-day gathering devoted to debating the issues affecting the capital, one topic sparked more heat than most.

It was the London living wage, the pay level calculated by the Greater London Authority as being the minimum on which people in the city can have a decent life. It’s currently £9.15 an hour.

But the point is that it’s entirely voluntary. Mayor Boris Johnson may encourage employers to pay it but that’s all he can do.

Anyone who lives and works in London, where house prices and rents are sky-high, will tell you that £9.15 an hour does not go far. Pressure is building for it to be mandatory.

That demand would ease if the living wage had been embraced wholeheartedly, but it hasn’t been. Among the worst offenders are the banks. Of the 240 members of the British Bankers’ Association, only a small fraction have signed up to the wage.

I was chairing the last session of the conference, a debate between senior representatives from the main political parties. When it came to questions from the floor, the living wage, and the failure of both private and public sector organisations to adopt it, was raised repeatedly.

It would cost the banks a scintilla of their profits to pay it to their cleaners and support staff, and the goodwill would far outweigh the cost. Yet again, though, they just fail to get it; their senior staff, who earn vast amounts by comparison, prefer to moan about caps on their bonuses.

A recurring mystery throughout the post-crisis years has been the collective failure of the banks, which employ armies of spin doctors and reputation advisers, to see how others regard them and to do something about it. The London living wage is another own goal.

Pop-up shops and the punk entrepreneur

All over Britain, pop-up shops adorn our high streets. I’d never given them much thought until Wednesday when I met Alice Ratcliffe from Appear Here.

She runs the marketing for the company, which is the country’s number one pop-up provider. It has got more than 500 shops nationwide on its books. They’re of different sizes and you can hire them for one day or up to a year.

Eight out of the country’s 10 biggest commercial landlords pass their vacant space on to Appear Here for free, to see if they can secure a short-term let. The company charges 15 per cent to the tenant on every booking, and business (I can vouch for that, merely by glancing at the shopping streets where I live) is booming.

Appear Here is the brainchild of Ross Bailey, who is only 22 years old. A born serial entrepreneur (he began his first venture at the age of eight with his cousin, when they were mobile DJs), he had the idea for Appear Here when, with a friend, he wanted to sell novelty, “rebel” T-shirts for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012.

They took over an empty shop in Marshall Street in London’s West End, named it “Rock & Rule”, and sold T-shirts adorned with the Queen’s face made to look like David Bowie. The way Mr Bailey tells it, people came in, not only to talk about the clothes but the store itself – they wanted to know how he and his pal had rented it.

When Rock & Rule ended, soon afterwards, Mr Bailey put his share of the proceeds into starting Appear Here. It only deals at the top-end, with leading brands, including Marc Jacobs, Jamie Oliver, Moleskine and Clarks. The tacky pop-up shops selling cheap tat are not their clientele.

Blue-sky thinking in the clouds

Wednesday night saw me having a drink with Ronald Duncan. He’s executive chairman of cloudBuy, the AIM-listed digital procurement platform.

Any business wanting to buy anything can go online through cloudBuy, he explained, which will then search for the cheapest prices available. The company has a tie-in with Visa to ensure payments remain secure, and it has just signed a three-year contract with a big financial institution based in Hong Kong. It also has high hopes of working with the NHS on helping to ensure that its myriad bodies make the necessary savings when purchasing equipment.

Mr Duncan isn’t one to crow but he could not hide his satisfaction when he said that cloudBuy had just completed a share placing that saw the shares sold at a 13 per cent premium to the market price. That must say something about investors’ faith in Mr Duncan, his team and the business.

Innovations I wish I had thought of first

It’s been a week for entrepreneurs who are going places. On Thursday evening I was at the Founder Awards dinner at London Business School. This is when LBS hands out coveted places on its Incubator Programme, supported by Deloitte, to graduates of the school who have impressed the most with their ideas for business start-ups.

This year, there were 29 applications for the 11 places on offer in the LBS’s new Incubator, known as The House. These 11 “winners” were selected beforehand and during the meal they made one-minute pitches about their proposals. It was inspirational fare – these were LBS students who had foregone the opportunity to pursue a stellar corporate career for the chance to run a show of their own.

They included Pavneet Singh and algoBox, an eBay-type market for algorithms. Rather than spend time and money building your own, you can buy one direct from algoBox. And then there was Le Salon, which allows busy people to book beauty treatments in their homes – no longer do they have to travel to a salon; the salon comes to them.

All of them were good, but my own favourite was Uncover, a mobile app that enables users to book, at the last minute, the unsold or cancelled tables at the best restaurants.

On the journey home, I found myself thinking, not for the first time: “Why didn’t I think of that?”