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September’s policy roundup: A reshuffle, the end of furlough and new tube stations

As we near the end of September, our Chief Executive Nick Bowes reflects on a busy month for London.

I write this during the brief rest period between the Labour and Conservative party conferences. September seems to have come and gone in the blink of an eye, perhaps because it’s felt like the most ‘normal’ month yet since the pandemic began. Our city centre has slowly been waking up as office workers, like me, rediscover the perks of seeing their colleagues face-to-face. Trains and tubes have become standing room only, cycle lanes are busy with cyclists old and new, and I’ve even spied a few queues at coffee shops. In-person party conferences, a reshuffle and a government u-turn or two… It has been a busy month for London.

Working together to level up London and the rest of the UK

The Prime Minister kickstarted the parliamentary calendar with a bang, bringing new ministers to the front bench. The Rt Hon Michael Gove MP has been charged with leading the newly titled Department for Levelling Up, Communities and Housing (DLUCH – Is it pronounced derr-loosh or dee-luck?) and will be responsible for the government’s flagship levelling up agenda. Earlier this week I got the train down to Brighton to attend the Labour party conference and, perhaps unsurprisingly, levelling up was the topic of conversation in the fringe. My views on the importance of London’s inclusion in levelling up should be no surprise to you by now, and I’ve written an open letter to the Secretary of State outlining how he can ensure the government supports the needs of London’s communities as well as those in the rest of the country. I also want to use this opportunity to work with partners in the North and across the rest of the country, to jointly call on Mr Gove for greater devolution to our towns, cities and regions with meaningful powers and funding to address our unique ‘levelling up’ problems. I also met with the Mayor of London this month to discuss his role in levelling up too.

Unemployment capital of the UK?

Today the furlough scheme comes to an end, while the £20-a-week uplift to universal credit will follow next week. Without adequate support from the government, the pandemic will leave a painful legacy of unemployment and widen the city’s economic and social inequalities even further. The scale of the challenge already facing the capital is huge. Nearly 1 in 10 people living in Haringey, Newham, Barking and Dagenham, and Brent are unemployed, way above the national average. And over the last year the capital has had the highest proportion of workers on furlough in England, with the hospitality and construction industries, in particular, relying on the scheme to protect jobs right up to the last day. The government must act now to stop London from becoming the unemployment capital of the UK.

Two new tubes, but trouble for Southeastern

September was not only a big test for London’s transport network as passenger numbers reached their highest numbers since last March, but it also welcomed two new tube stations to the map. The Northern line extension of Battersea Power Station and Nine Elms was finally declared open last week. I was delighted to see the brand-new stations for myself, as we heard that the Elizabeth line is now on course to open next May. Earlier this week it was also announced that rail operator Southeastern will be stripped of its franchise over undeclared funding. The franchise has not had a happy life since privatisation. Is this the third time it has been taken over by the Government? Perhaps it’s time to devolve the commuter sections to Transport for London. As we head into autumn, talks between Transport for London and the Department for Transport over the future financing of our world-leading transport system are also sure to ramp up and a successful outcome is absolutely crucial for the city.

Nick Bowes is Chief Executive of Centre for London. Follow him on Twitter. Read more from him here.