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Our ideas for the next Mayor of London

London’s need for decisive action has never been greater. We’ve set out our ideas for the next Mayor of London to respond to the city’s big challenges.

Six weeks out from the 2021 mayoral election, Sadiq Khan retains a strong lead over the Conservatives’ Shaun Bailey in the opinion polls. Nothing is a foregone conclusion in politics, and the mayoral voting system means that a candidate could lag behind on first preferences, but still win once second preferences have been taken into account. Still, candidates could be excused for being cautious, for retreating into their comfort zones and focusing on shoring up their core vote.

That would be a mistake.

Sadiq Khan’s margin gives him the space to be bold and to secure a mandate for radical action. And the other candidates have every incentive to push policy positions that might break through the incumbent’s persistent poll lead.

London’s need for decisive action has never been greater.

The city has been badly bruised by coronavirus – as much as any other part of the UK, despite the government’s persistent ‘levelling up’ rhetoric. Many communities have suffered very high levels of infection, illness and death, unemployment levels are some of the highest in the UK, and the commuting and tourism that bring life to central London remain heavily suppressed. And alongside the pressures of recovery, London faces a struggle to achieve the current Mayor’s target of net-zero carbon by 2030 and to address the chronic inequalities that left so many Londoners so vulnerable to the pandemic.

So here are Centre for London’s priority recommendations for the next Mayor of London, drawing on recent research on transport, housing and employment, and on the need to make the case for the city as we emerge from the current crisis. Some rely on securing more powers from central government, which may seem like a tall order. But with a devolution white paper promised, a manifesto mandate will help the Mayor make the case for Whitehall to relax its grip.

Our ideas for the next Mayor of London:

  • A green light for greener transport
  • Better public participation for better city plans
  • Fairness and flexibility in London’s economic recovery
  • Investing in the homes London needs
  • A unifying voice for London

A green light for greener transport

The area where the Mayor can make the most difference is transport. The pandemic hit public transport use hard and precipitated a funding crisis for Transport for London. As lockdowns have been eased, many Londoners have taken to using their cars rather than tubes or buses, setting back progress towards net-zero carbon and cleaner air.

The next Mayor needs a set of policies that will address both the financial and environmental crises in London’s transport systems. We believe this requires a fundamental rethink. Firstly, a London-wide system of road user charging should be introduced, to replace current congestion and ultra-low emissions zone charges, as well as the proposed boundary charge. A modernised system could enable payments to be based on the actual distance travelled, the type of vehicle, the time of day, levels of congestion and availability of other options. The system would be fairer, would raise more revenues, and would help to encourage people to explore alternative ways of getting around.

Alongside this the next Mayor should widen choice by making London a world leader in giving its citizens safe and inclusive access to cycling, ebikes and escooters – the ‘micromobility’ technologies that have the potential to vastly extend the range of journeys that can be taken without using cars. And new strategies on freight and parking could also help reduce congestion, clean up the capital’s air, and make streets safer places for play and pedestrians.

Better public participation for better city plans

The experience of implementing low traffic neighbourhoods has shown how difficult public engagement in radical policy shifts can be. But these controversies are emblematic of a deeper problem, where many Londoners feel mistrustful of how the city is changing, and of the developers and borough planners who are making decisions that affect their lives and reshape their neighbourhoods. We believe London needs a fresh start in public engagement. The next Mayor should sign up to a Statement of Community Involvement, which commits to early, open, sustained, accessible and well-resourced public engagement in City Hall’s own development projects and planning policies, and promotes these principles across the city.  London’s changing cityscape should reflect Londoners’ views and benefit from their expertise.

Fairness and flexibility in London’s economic recovery

London also needs a fairer recovery. The city has seen an explosion in self-employment in recent years, from delivery drivers to management consultants, and from writers to actors and musicians. These workers are among London’s most enterprising. They will be at the heart of London’s recovery, and their numbers are likely to increase as more employers fight shy of taking on new permanent staff. But many self-employed Londoners get a raw deal, with clients delaying payment, cancelling contracts at short notice and adopting behaviour that would be unacceptable in managing employees. And they have been hard hit by the crisis, with 55 per cent saying their income has taken a hit, compared to 44 per cent of employees. A Client Charter would help to strike a better balance, by formalising clients’ commitment to fair fees, timely payments, and protections from anti-bullying and harassment policies. London’s economic recovery should not be at the expense of workers’ rights and dignity.

London’s unique economic mix has left the city disproportionately exposed to the economic impact of the pandemic, and we do not yet know how quickly office workers, theatregoers, students, shoppers and nightclubbers will return to the city centre. The next Mayor will need to work with the government and the boroughs to sustain a successful central London as it finds its ‘new normal’. They should enable changes of use where these don’t compromise vitality, and support new start-ups by putting in place tax breaks in ‘urban enterprise zones’ to help the next generation of innovators to create their London.

Investing in the homes London needs

The housing crisis in London has not always been at the forefront of debate during the pandemic but will need urgent attention as the city recovers. London still face challenges of overcrowding, insecure tenancy and unaffordable home ownership. We believe the next Mayor should push for devolution and reform of London property taxation. This would reduce speculation by making housing less attractive as a pure investment and distribute tax burdens more fairly between Londoners, and could unlock new investment. But the next Mayor will also need central government funding for building homes that are affordable to rent and buy, as well as for adaptation for post-Grenfell safety and carbon efficiency, not least as the government’s latest housing targets shift the burden of building homes back onto London and other urban areas.

A unifying voice for London

Finally, London needs the Mayor to speak clearly and compellingly for the capital, at a time when the capital is lazily caricatured as a wealthy drain on the rest of the UK. Relations with central government have been strained for at least the past year, with continuing disputes and debates about everything from transport funding to the London Plan. With the election behind them, the next Mayor and the government will need to work together. The next Mayor should partner with boroughs and politicians from all parties to make the positive case for the capital. The UK’s recovery will depend on London’s; ‘Global Britain’ needs its principal global city.

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Richard Brown is Interim Director at Centre for London. Follow him on Twitter. Read more from him here.