St Pauls: Protestors and the Public

It’s more than 50 days since the Occupy London group set up camp outside St Paul’s cathedral, yet still their future is unclear. With the City of London’s attempts to move the protestors thwarted and jobs in the Church of England lost along the way, what do professionals in the financial services (FS) sector, and the public more generally, think of the protestors and the City?

A ComRes poll last week for LBC/London Tonight/Evening Standard revealed that half of Londoners agreed that protestors outside St Paul’s Cathedral should be cleared off the site as soon as possible, by force if necessary. Moreover, 56% disagreed that protestors should be allowed to stay there as long as they choose.  Yet despite opposition to the protests, the sentiment towards the financial services industry, even among professionals, is actually more in line with what the protestors stand for.

Earlier this year, ComRes polled professionals across the FS sector in London on behalf of St Paul’s Institute.   Findings reveal that 75% of FS professionals in London agree that there is too great a gap between rich and poor in the UK. Indeed, FS professionals think that bankers, stockbrokers, FTSE 100 chief executives, lawyers and city bond traders are being paid too much, despite the fact that respondents themselves say that salary/bonus is their top motivation to work in the industry.  Two thirds of London’s FS professionals say that salary is their number one motivation to work in the sector; yet they are willing to admit that many in the sector earn too much.

The general public agree with this sentiment, as a recent ComRes poll found - 68% of people disagree that pay inequalities have got better in the last twenty years.So the public and FS professionals appear to be in agreement with the protestors on the issue of pay inequalities.  But FS professionals also link the bonus culture with the causes of the banking collapse: 70% agree that large bonuses in the sector encourage people to take greater risks. It is thus perhaps unsurprising to see that 51% of FS professionals think that deregulation results in less ethical behaviour in general terms.

Despite this, FS professionals believe their own companies are doing a good job on corporate social responsibility (CSR). Indeed, 82% of professionals agree that their companies maintain high ethical standards in their business practices.  The problem is not on their own doorstep, therefore, but is endemic to others in the sector.While there appears to be mutual agreement between the professionals and the people that pay inequalities exist and that the city is paid too much, there is some remaining tension.  ComRes tracking polls for ITV News show consistently that two thirds of people think the Government is more concerned with protecting the banks than the British public.

But while protestors, professionals and the general public can agree on the causes, the evidence suggests that the public is losing its patience with the protesters.  The polling evidence shows not only that people want to see Occupy London moved on, but that last week’s public sector strikes are unlikely to succeed and should not have gone ahead.  Has the public has lost its appetite for grassroots action?