'The Archbishop of Canterbury is on the phone': The secret code that helps the City's top official deal with his punishing workload

  • The Lord Mayor of the City of London is an incredibly busy man, so needs effective ways of managing his time.
  • Staff have devised a code to get him out of meetings if they’re overrunning.
  • Andrew Parmley spoke to Business Insider as he brings his year as Lord Mayor to a close.

LONDON — “The Archbishop of Canterbury is on the phone, and he’d like a word.”

If you ever find yourself in a meeting with the Lord Mayor of the City of London and hear a staff member say those words to the mayor, your time is, unfortunately, up.

The phrase is used by household staff in the Mayor’s office — based in the Mansion House close to the Bank of England in the heart of the City — when meetings overrun and the Mayor is needed at another appointment.

“The code in the house is that if somebody overruns, a member of staff opens the door and says ‘The Archbishop of Canterbury is on the phone, and would like a word,’ Parmley told Business Insider in an interview earlier this week.

“When that happens, I say ‘Thank you for coming. It’s been a pleasure, but I’ve got to go.'”

This is just one of the tricks used by the Lord Mayor, the City of London’s top , to effectively manage his time.

Although the Lord Mayor position only lasts a year, the daily schedule is punishing. Parmley told BI that he tends to have between 12 and 20 meetings per day, all done in 30 minute slots.

Those meetings can include anything from audiences with the prime minister, to an abseil down the Cheesegrater, to media interviews. On the day that Business Insider met with Parmley, his schedule included lunch with the Archbishop (a real one, not one to get rid of us), a visit from the City’s chaplain, and a dinner to celebrate the opening of Bloomberg’s £1 billion new headquarters.

“Last Monday was a 20 event day,” Parmley said, adding that he is “down to about three hours of sleep” per night as he deals with the myriad roles that being the Lord Mayor entails.

As well of promoting the city’s interests domestically, the Lord Mayor’s role is international. In his year in office Parmley has visited countries including Nepal, Colombia, and numerous African countries to discuss how the City can work with governments in these countries.

One frequent collaboration is the Lord Mayor helping to find financing opportunities for infrastructure projects in developing nations.

“I’ve learned over this year the significance of infrastructure, how one finances infrastructure, and the benefits its brings to people, particularly when it comes to roads and railway lines,” he said.

Parmley, who is originally from Blackpool, has also tried to foster good relations between the City and the UK’s regions. A notable example of this, he says, came during a meeting with Greater Manchester’s Mayor Andy Burnham earlier in the year.

“I happened to be sitting in Andy Burnham’s office on the day that Mr Grayling [Transport Secretary Chris Grayling] announced that we’re going to have Crossrail 2, but we weren’t having HS2 and HS3,” he said.

“I had to explain that I’m not a politician, and I don’t have any greater access to the prime minister than he does. But I said, what I do have access to is people who know where to find financing arrangements.

“So, if you and I can agree that you need HS2 and HS3, and we need Crossrail 2, why don’t we crack on and get all those things built at once for the greater good of the country.”

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