Councillor Mark Shooter, Mayor of Barnet, is the youngest ever person to hold this position, and an Actuarial Science graduate from 1992. We went to interview him for a chat about how he got into politics, the diversity of Barnet and the pressures of funding cuts, as well as going on safari in South Africa.
What was your time at Cass like?
“I studied Actuarial Science at Northampton Square, and it was a very hard course requiring lots of studying. The exams in particular were very intense. I thought it was a fantastic course and it let me to a top job in an actuarial consultant’s office straight after I graduated. I was also exempt from six of the formal actuarial examinations thanks to the academic rigour of the course.
How did you go from Actuarial Science to Mayor of Barnet?
“I stayed in that first actuarial role for two years, taking two further examinations towards being a certified actuarial analyst, but then I decided I wanted to do something else. As a profession, it’s too risk-averse and I wanted to do something that involved a little more risk. I moved on to Swiss Bank, dealing with investment banks, trading and hedge funds.
“In 2010 the market became quite volatile and I decided to seek new challenges. I was after something where I could give my time and energy to the community, as well as developing my charitable foundation. I wanted to do something really meaningful and then one day an information leaflet about ‘becoming a councillor’ dropped through my door. I didn’t really know what one did, and the only real interactions I’d had with the council were to get them to fix the pavement, to pay parking tickets, and for rubbish collection. I learned that Barnet council has a £1bn budget and is responsible for education, social welfare, the environment, voluntary organisations and more, and decided to get involved.
“I helped Matthew Offord become an MP and in return he backed me to become a councillor in Hendon. I have been a councillor for five years now, and enjoy making small differences to people’s lives, whether it’s by sending an email, going to a meeting, or by lobbying for someone’s interests or rights.”
Was entering the public sector an easy transition?
“When I was first elected I wanted to take over the whole council but I missed out on becoming the leader. I realised then I actually needed to take a step back and take some time to find my feet in the public sector before pushing on forwards, so I focussed and took it a bit slower. Gradually, I took on more responsibility, before becoming the chairman of the pension fund, which ties in nicely with my actuarial background, as well as being a member of the planning committee. Barnet Council has £1bn pension fund, and together with all 33 London boroughs we have pension assets of over £30bn. The Government is trying to save on administrative costs, and to gather resources together for efficiency, so now I’m on the board of investors of all the London pension funds with an aim to push down the costs of administering the investments and return a high level of savings.”
What does being Mayor of Barnet actually involve?
“As a Mayor I have three main duties. The first is my civic duty to meet and greet royals who come to my constituency and to be present at official events such as Remembrance Day and Armed Forces Day. I get to open schools and libraries and also raise the profile of other local events by attending in my Mayoral capacity. The second is in upholding the council constitution. I chair the full council meetings, keep decorum and my decision is final if there are any disputes on rules. And my third duty is to raise money for charity. We pick an annual charity and I have actually convened a committee to help with this because I wanted to support a number of local causes. In the end we chose four different ones: a local cancer charity, a charity that works with homeless people in Barnet, a charity for muscular dystrophy which came about because a couple of the mothers on the committee have children with this condition, and an educational charity that supports children who require extra educational assistance but don’t have this provided through their school via a special needs statement.”
Would you recommend becoming a Councillor to other people?
“Becoming a councillor has been such a rewarding experience. I have had the chance to do so many and varied things, and it’s really enhanced my social life as well. I also like that it’s not a full time role, so that still gives me time to spend with my five kids, and on my charitable trust.”
What’s next for you?
“I’ve taken on a consultancy role within the Government, advising on pensions and investments, and I’m finally studying for my last actuarial exams, which have increased in number since I was last part of the profession. It’s hard to go back to studying as there’s huge competition from very bright youngsters with lots of energy. Competing against them with all my responsibilities is hard but I’m still feeling confident, energetic and nimble.”
What’s the biggest issue facing Councillors today?
“Barnet council is the largest in London, with a very diverse 400,000 people living here. 35% of my constituents were born outside the UK, it’s home to the largest Chinese community in the country and there are large Jewish, Indian and Greek-Cypriot communities too, plus a large number of elderly residents. This diversity is good, but it also presents challenges locally, in terms of looking after all the different communities. This area is so successful because of the excellent schools, there are 124 here and we have to maintain standards. All of this is difficult because we are facing severe cutbacks in our budget. Other boroughs have been shutting down libraries and services, but we are trying to do it by making efficiency savings and schemes like turning some libraries into community libraries. We’ve also got 6 museums which we’re fighting to keep open, we really need to keep the cultural side of Barnet alive, so we’re outsourcing some things to save money. We’re struggling with the extra cuts from the new budget announced in the summer though. We are also committed to building a large number of houses, although that’s presenting us with some infrastructure challenges.”
What advice would you give to your 16-year-old self?
“Well, I actually have a 16-year-old son, so I’ve been practising this lately. I’d say make sure you get good A-levels, they are crucial for university, so keep on with those GCSEs and make sure to get at least a B in English. Politics is good, but go through a roundabout route. Start a career first, so that you have some life experience when you go into politics, and make sure you get professional qualifications too. That doesn’t mean you can’t get involved along the way though; you should take an interest in politics, join local associations and get involved in events and electoral campaigns, they will build your experience and social skills, and you can make a difference as well.”
Finally – it’s the quick-fire question round!
Favourite place in London: “It’s got to be Barnet!”
Favourite holiday destination: “Israel.”
Must-check-everyday Website: “I have several – I always check the markets on the IG Index, Sky News and the Daily Mail app.”
Dream travel destination: “South Africa – I want to take my kids on safari.”
Cheese or chocolate: “Chocolate every time!”
Any other facts about yourself? “I’m 6’1”, I support Spurs, and I worked for 10 years at the Business Design Centre in Angel.”
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