February is a short month, but it has delivered on big policy announcements, political drama and further squeezing on living standards. Our Chief Executive Nick Bowes has the roundup of key developments in London.
The new national mission: Levelling up
The national mission to address the UK’s geographical inequalities must transcend party politics. The publishing of the long-awaited White Paper on Levelling Up this month saw the government lay out it plans to address these inequalities, which have persisted for far too long. We welcome the White Paper’s acknowledgment that London’s success matters and that the city has its own extensive levelling up challenges.
It is good to see the Government’s door is open to devolving further powers. But it is frustrating that to the city has to ‘bid’ for further powers. And as my colleague Claire Harding warns, when ministers promise ‘London-style’ devolution for other parts of England, the offer is not as generous as it may sound. The White Paper puts a spotlight on New York and Paris and their responsibility and powers over welfare, schools, health and fiscal powers. These are exactly the types of powers that London should have.
Move along, please
London’s success depends on sustained investment in infrastructure, public services and skills: none of these are possible without a long-term funding deal for Transport for London. And earlier this month the DfT funding deal was extended again for just another two weeks. I’ve said it once and I will say it again; this is no way to run a world-class public transport authority. My fear is that a series of short-term funding deals is the way it is going to be between now and the May 2024 Mayoral election I hope I am proved wrong. Talk of a ‘London-style transport system’ for the rest of the country (which they undoubtedly need) will ring hollow if London-style ends up a much lower bar than originally.
Fare rises will leave Londoners short changed
To help address the massive gap in their funding, this month also saw TfL announce that fares would be going up by 4.8%, but with bus fares rising by more than the average. These steep fare rises will add further to the cost-of-living pressures being felt by Londoners. At a time when the priority is getting more people back on to tubes, buses and trains, the risk is a rise like this will have the opposite effect, dampen the city’s recovery from the pandemic hitting central London’s economy particularly hard.
Finally, in other transport news, the Transport Select Committee published their report on road user charging. It came to the same conclusion as Centre for London’s own research- pay per mile road smart user charging is the future. It will be fascinating to see who makes the first move – Mayor of London or the Treasury?
Changing of the guard: what next for the Met?
This has been a monumental month for the Met, culminating with the resignation of the Commissioner. The institutional and cultural problems that emerged over recent months are so engrained that a change in leadership alone will not be enough – and more fundamental reforms are going to be necessary. Here are my top suggestions for reforms to the Met:
- Split off the national functions like counter terror to the National Crime Agency. Let London’s police focus on the city.
- Build the new service from the bottom up, focusing on what works for all communities.
- Overhaul recruitment and rethink what makes the ideal candidate for modern policing. Change the law to allow positive discrimination – progress on diversity is too slow for something so critical to the confidence of London’s black, Asian and minority ethnic communities.
- End the Home Office’s involvement in London’s policing. Without the national functions, there is no justification. Make the Mayor solely accountable for policing, with the power to hire and fire the commissioner, and the power to refer the Met to the Independent Office of Police Complaints (IOPC).
- Give the Mayor more control over funding streams for the police. You cannot have the Mayor on the hook with the voters for the police’s performance while the Home Office still has the power to turn off the funding taps at any moment.
- Overhaul the way the police talk with and engage Londoners. They have become increasingly tin eared and insensitive, leading to real damage to the public’s confidence in the police. Much more work is needed so the police are better at reading the public’s mood.
Appointing a new Met Commissioner won’t be straightforward. It is hard to get away from a potential candidate pool that isn’t full of current or former Met Police people. Yet on this occasion bringing in an outsider feels even more important given the scale of cultural and institutional reform required.
Nothing should be ruled out, including starting afresh. Just as the Royal Ulster Constabulary was replaced by the Police Service of Northern Ireland after the Good Friday Agreement, then the city can have a wholly new Police Service for London with a fresh approach, modern standards and a new ethos.