Londoners will head to the polls on 6 May to elect the next Mayor of London. What are the big challenges they need to respond to as we look ahead to recovery?
May’s mayoral election will take place at a time when London’s future looks less clear than it has for many years. By the time of the ballot, we should be seeing the continued retreat of the current wave of the pandemic, but we will also be looking forward to a recovery that is likely to be rocky, as the city and its citizens seek to address the personal, social and economic costs of coronavirus.
The road may be not be smooth, but London is resilient, and has bounced back from crises before. Centre for London has been developing a long-term response to London’s challenges – those posed by the pandemic, as well as those that preceded it and those that lie ahead – and will be publishing it this summer.
But now, we need to hear from the mayoral candidates. We think there are four big challenges they need to respond to…
Four big challenges the mayoral candidates need to respond to:
The first is the unequal impact of coronavirus on Londoners. We know that the virus has hit some of London’s communities particularly hard, with death rates for Black people twice as high or more compared to White people. This is at least partly due to poorer living and working conditions: people from ethnic minority groups are more likely to be living in crowded housing or working frontline jobs than White people. London also has higher rates of furlough and unemployment than other parts of the country, with lower paid workers, women and younger people particularly hard hit. How will the mayoral candidates make sure that London’s recovery is equitable, and how can the next mayor resolve rather than deepen some of the long-term inequalities that hold the capital back?
The second is London’s economic future. The capital bounced back quickly from the last recession 10 years ago, but things could be different this time around. International travel will remain suppressed this year, and the return to city centre offices is likely to be slow and partial. Many of London’s office workers are able to work from home, but this rebalancing, whether temporary or permanent, leaves many London businesses in limbo. High streets are reeling from an accelerated decline in retail, and the hospitality and cultural industries that do so much to bolster London’s global appeal are struggling to survive. The recovery plans prepared by the current Mayor and London boroughs envision a transformative ‘green recovery’, but this will require significant political and financial capital, and innovation, to have a real bearing on both carbon emissions and growth. What new jobs will this create and what support will be put in place to ensure these can be accessed by all Londoners?
The third challenge is readying London’s transport system for the future. The pandemic has blown a hole in Transport for London’s finances, as Londoners have stayed home, or chosen to walk, cycle or drive rather than using buses or tubes. But London’s roads are congested, air quality is poor and achieving zero carbon will require a rapid shift from using petrol and diesel. Emergency measures to make more space for walking and cycling have been controversial, and faced challenges in court, but change will be needed in coming years. How will London’s next mayor lead that change, providing accessible and affordable public transport services, and providing incentives to shift towards greener transport behaviour across the city?
Finally, London still faces multiple and interlocking housing crises. Rents may have moderated in some parts of the city, but remain high overall, as do prices that put home ownership out of reach of most young Londoners. Many Londoners feel locked out of planning their neighbourhoods, resulting in delays to new housing and new development that loses out on local expertise. Concern about housing quality is rising: coronavirus lockdowns have focused attention on the growing problem of overcrowding, the Grenfell Tower disaster has required landlords across the city to review and replace cladding, and London’s goal to reach net zero in coming years will require a wholesale electrification of domestic heating. And London’s homelessness problem is deepening: rough sleeping has risen in recent years, and the city also has nearly 100,000 homeless households living in temporary accommodation. How will the next mayor put plans and investments in place to build the new homes London needs, while addressing the chronic problems of crowding and quality that too many Londoners are living with?
The powers and budgets directly available to London’s mayor are limited, so recovery from coronavirus will require a creative approach to using these, to working with government, London’s boroughs and voluntary organisations, and to leading and representing the city. Above all, it will require a focus not just on the after effects of the pandemic, but also to the long-term challenges that made London so vulnerable to it. We will set out our ideas on responses to these in coming weeks.