Clare Wildfire, technical principal at Mott MacDonald.

City leaders need to 'tune the market' to get best benefit from business

Investment, innovation and entrepreneurship rapidly take root when there is opportunity and city leaders have considerable power to create the right conditions by ‘tuning the market’, says Clare Wildfire.

Clear and consistent goals and policy encourage business to address city needs and work towards mutually beneficial outcomes. The skill is in creating common interest and constructive tension between public and private interests.

Coming together for the common good

Private organisations are effective at working in voluntary coalition to address important issues. In the infrastructure sector there are currently ‘task groups’ tackling all of the issues being addressed by the Global Parliament of Mayors taking place in Bristol this week – energy and carbon, health, security, migration, housing and transport, digital, innovation and high tech, investment – among many more. 

Leadership is often provided by individual companies, but also comes from professional institutions and academia. They recognise that they have collective power to change behaviours, set targets, and drive change. 

The contribution of business task-groups can be substantially improved when given encouragement, direction and support by major influencers and procurers, including city government. 

Risk and opportunity

For public and private sector alike, the acid test for any urban initiative is its bankability. Does the benefit of investing outweigh the risk? 

As a city leader, describe your vision, aims and priorities to business. Their appetite will tell you whether ideas have potential; and business will be able to help turn an interesting idea into a workable proposal. 

That is because risk and reward are fundamental to business decision-making. Monetising non-financial risks can help to shine a light on issues that need attention. City leaders can benefit from specialist skills in advising on risk management and reduction – technical, environmental, social, regulatory and legal, as well as financial – and on achieving the greatest value for money.

Open dialogue

City leaders must set agendas which balance business benefit with outcomes for citizens and safeguard social resilience. While consistency is important, it is also necessary to recognise that achieving long-term goals often requires flexible strategy and tactics. Close, open and honest dialogue between mayor, business and citizens is essential so that, as insight and understanding of key issues develops over time, adaptation can take place without jeopardy. 

Five key principles for progress

For mayors and the businesses they work with, there are a number of key guiding principles. Advancing an agenda is harder when any of them are absent. Applying them enables progress, helping to deliver better outcomes for all.


Vision: Describe what you want to achieve and provide the highest-level sponsorship and commitment

Values: Embed goals in your organisation’s DNA

Policy: Deliver clear and consistent policies to support those goals

Culture and communication

Behaviour: Be clear what behaviours are wanted and reward them

Communication: Share knowledge effectively within your organisation, your supply chain, the wider industry and citizens

Skills: Develop skills through training at all levels within your organisation and within key parts of your supply chain

Metrics and governance

Baseline: Establish your starting point and measure performance against it

Targets: Set stretching goals and strive to beat them 

Tools: Give tools to those that need them

Visibility: Shine a light on performance, understanding and explaining successes and failures alike

Governance: Build control into the delivery process

Innovation and standards

Innovation: Demand, enable, incentivise and reward innovation across your supply chain

Standards: Enable existing standards and specifications to be challenged and set new standards for best practice

Commercial solutions

Procurement: Embed your goals in contractual solutions

Reward: Align supply chain objectives with your goals, provide long-term incentives, and share risks and rewards equitably

Integration: Remove blockers in your supply chain

Clare Wildfire is a technical principal at Mott MacDonald.