The changing language of London and the UK
London’s leaders have begun to change how they talk about the capital’s relationship with the rest of the UK. In 2014, the Mayor of London stated that ‘a pound invested in London can drive jobs and growth around the country’, citing the jobs created across the UK by demand for new homes and tube trains in the capital. 80 As earlier chapters have shown, there is plenty of evidence to back up these claims. However, four years on, the current Mayor has called explicitly for national government to invest in infrastructure outside of, as well as within, the capital: ‘The government should invest in infrastructure around the country in order to stimulate new jobs, new homes and prosperity (…) It is vital that we see increased investment across the country and not just here in London.’ 81
This change in tone is notable. London First’s 2018 Growing Together report highlighted the benefits of inter-regional collaboration, asserting that ‘Addressing serious imbalances in regional economic performance in the UK will significantly improve national prospects.’ 82 In an interview for this report, a senior figure in the Greater Manchester Combined Authority described it as ‘a refreshing and really positive move.’ But there are plenty of other reasons to be cheerful about London’s potential for building more productive relationships and helping the rest of the UK to grow alongside the capital.
London’s political, business and cultural institutions are already working together with other parts of the UK, to mutual benefit. Much of this activity is relatively new, and not necessarily widely recognised. This chapter outlines some highlights, in order to show where there are existing opportunities and foundations that can be built upon, and to offer ideas for other measures that could help address the concerns outlined in the previous chapter. Rebalancing is too important to be left to Westminster and Whitehall alone.
Foundations for a better relationship
1. UK Mayors
The establishment of a network of mayors, representing combined authorities across the UK as well as London, offers a huge opportunity for collaborative working. This has the potential to create a powerful, cross-party alternative political voice for devolved government in the country. In November 2017, the regional mayors collaborated to issue a crossparty call for further devolution. 83 A wider group of city leaders and mayors united for a cross-party ‘National Clean Air Summit’ at Mansion House in the City of London in June 2018, alongside MPs and the Secretary of State for the Environment, urging measures to improve air quality. 84 That same month, the full complement of eight UK combined authority/ metro mayors, (the ‘M-8’, which includes the Mayor of London), issued a joint call for control over unspent apprenticeship levy funds, to better address regional skills issues in order to boost productivity and economic growth. 85
Combined authority mayors are still relatively new in the UK, with the first six introduced in May 2017. However, the potential for the entire ‘M-8’ to work together in a cross-party fashion to advocate for stronger local governance and lobby on common issues brings great optimism. With London’s mayor currently enjoying the most prominent national profile, his or his successors’ involvement can help bring attention to regional issues. As one senior GMCA official put it: ‘I think having Sadiq Khan and the GLA behind us will greatly assist us and Liverpool in making the point that we’ve been trying to make over the last 12 months – and in fact, that Manchester has been making for years – that devolution is the way to go.’
2. Regional strategy
London’s role as a hub for international business need not come at the expense of other UK cities. In fact, their offers are often complementary. Since 2017, the City of London Corporation has adopted (and subsequently expanded) a regional strategy for building and strengthening relations with other UK financial centres. This programme began with a focus on Belfast, Manchester and Edinburgh, with Birmingham, Cardiff and Leeds added in April 2017.
A collaborative programme has included an inter-regional presentation, with the Department for International Trade, at MIPIM, the international real estate conference, ‘to promote the complementarity of the regional hub offers’ and ‘develop a joint narrative on UK Financial and Professional Services proposition’. 86 The Lord Mayor of London has been involved in public and private efforts to increase inward investment to the regions targeted by the strategy, and representatives of Northern Irish and Scottish development agencies have accompanied overseas trade delegations led by the Lord Mayor.
The current government’s Industrial Strategy has provided for the creation of ‘Local Industrial Strategies’. It is suggested that these strategies will allow local areas to build on their specific strengths, provide the skills and training, develop infrastructure and stimulate economic growth in the sectors that suit them. However, how much influence these local strategies can have remains to be seen – central government has explicitly stated that they ‘must not contain any proposals that require new funding’. 87 In the meantime, regional engagement on the part of both public and private sector, of the kind developing under the City of London’s Regional Strategy, is essential.
3. Transport collaboration
Transport for London is a prominent member of the Urban Transport Group (UTG), an organisation that brings together transport bodies from cities across the UK, serving over 24 million people combined. The UTG provides a forum for sharing best practice and innovative new ideas across the UK, holding workshops and advocating for urban transport friendly policies from national government. A series of bilateral projects have also been developed. Tower Hill and Newcastle Central stations have been ‘twinned’, as part of a relationship between TfL and Nexus, with knowledgesharing workshops organised between staff. Joint working between TfL and Transport for the West Midlands on Travel Demand Management is underway, and TfL is providing advice for the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham based on its experience of the 2012 Olympics.
TfL is also ‘being incredibly generous’ in working behind the scenes alongside Transport for the North (TfN) to help them build ‘Oyster Card for the North’, sharing expertise, providing peer review and demonstrating their own technology, according to a senior TfN figure, who describes this ‘as a fraternal gesture’. This collaborative working is becoming more prevalent, and operates both ways, with London playing a role in sharing its expertise, and benefitting from learning from other urban transport bodies.
4. Joint tourism initiatives
London’s ability to draw in huge numbers of international tourists has already been highlighted. The capital’s promotional agency, London & Partners, is now working alongside other UK cities, in an attempt to strengthen the spokes that extend out across the country from the hub of the capital.
In February 2018 the Mayors of London, Greater Manchester and the West Midlands launched a joint international tourism project, led by London & Partners and branded ‘Experience England’. This Visit England-funded initiative focuses on tourism from China, India and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, and markets a package tourist experience that involves visiting London, Manchester and Birmingham alongside parts of the English countryside, rather than just the capital. The project is based on research that shows that while less than one in three visitors to London stay elsewhere in the UK as part of their trip, visitor satisfaction for those that do so increases ‘significantly’. 88
This research demonstrates the mutual benefit that can arise from collaborative working between regions. A similar initiative combining historic cities such as Lincoln, York and Durham with the capital, also involving London & Partners, has also been funded by Visit Britain. Collaborative initiatives focusing on inwards investment, rather than tourism, are less prevalent, but could provide exciting opportunities if pursued.
5. Knowledge sharing: Violence Reduction Unit
A more recent example of knowledge sharing between different cities demonstrates how London can also benefit from taking a more collaborative approach. Knife crime is currently a huge issue for London, with over 100 murders reported in the capital in 2018 by August. Whilst this is an issue across England and Wales, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick, acknowledged that ‘we clearly, as a city, have a big problem now’. 89 But other cities have had similar experiences. As a Glasgow MP described in an interview for this report:
It’s one of those things where you watch MPs from London jumping up and down, going, ‘Who’s going to do something about knife crime?’, and you think, ‘Well, we know stuff about this! Speak to us about this, we know stuff!’ But I think in Westminster, MPs are often very keen to go around the world to see what lessons they can learn from other places, but they won’t just go up the road to Glasgow, to Scotland, to see what we’re doing here. It’s a strange kind of attitude.
In February 2018, Cressida Dick visited the founders of Glasgow’s Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) to discuss how Glasgow has dealt with knife crime. One of these figures, John Carnochan, has since been advising the London Borough of Lambeth on how best to respond to the problem of growing knife crime in the capital, using the Glasgow experience of treating the problem as a public health issue to inform the borough’s approach. 90 The Mayor of London set up a VRU for London in September 2018, following ‘several months researching the experience of agencies in Glasgow’ with the aim of making the lessons learned there work in a London context. 91 Whilst it remains to be seen whether London’s VRU will prove successful, this is a clear example that sharing expertise, best practice and the latest innovations in policy need can clearly operate both ways. Hopefully this new strategy will prove to be to the mutual benefit of both London and the rest of the UK.
6. Rebalancing the cultural sector
Arts and culture provide a useful example of positive steps towards addressing regional disparities, with potential lessons for other sectors. A gradual shift away from a perceived London-centric approach on the part of central government has taken place in the last few years, including the Culture White Paper of 2016, the 2017 Mendoza Review of museums in England, and the current government’s manifesto commitment to ensure that more of central government’s support for the arts is allocated outside of the capital. Some of this is akin to more traditional regional policy: Arts Council England is committed to ensuring that 75 per cent of Lottery funding is allocated outside of London, for example.
However, some of this approach is more nuanced, and builds on the Mendoza Review’s call for ‘national responsibilities for national museums’. 92 In the North West, a partnership between the British Museum and Manchester Museum is seeing the former’s collection used in the latter’s upcoming South Asia exhibition. Curatorial exchange programmes are enabling knowledge sharing between the staff of both museums, with lessons regarding community engagement in the curation of exhibitions providing one example of how London can learn from the rest of the UK. Similar programmes exist between the British Museum and numerous partner museums across the country. 93
National museum collections are increasingly travelling the country, with the Natural History Museum’s ‘Dippy’ the Diplodocus skeleton currently on tour around UK museums. Whilst the cost in time and money of hosting travelling exhibits can be prohibitive, this is a positive move. Equally, using gallery space in London to exhibit artwork from around the UK can serve as a promotional tool for UK regions, helping to encourage tourism and offering an opportunity to sell local produce, as demonstrated by the Bulldog Trust’s ‘Amongst Heroes’ Cornish art exhibition, which took place at Two Temple Place in London. 94
7. A Cornish embassy?
The Cornwall Development Company is establishing a ‘Cornish Embassy’ in London, on behalf of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly LEP. This ‘embassy’ aims to showcase Cornish business and produce, as well as providing a space for Cornish organisations to do business in the capital. The embassy is based on the model of ‘Liverpool in London’s’ London Hub in Finsbury Square. It is hoped that having a physical presence in London will help to strengthen the spokes that draw investment out to Cornwall, as a senior Cornwall Development Company official describes:
We want to have a presence in what is the UK and Europe’s biggest market place, where all that business and all that capital is attracted. (…) A lot of the businesses that we talk to will either have their HQs in London, or it will be their first port of call into the UK, which is why we want to be there and engaging in that market.
Alongside a crowdfunding campaign from Cornish businesses, it is hoped that match funding can be secured from the European Regional Development Fund. Heathrow Airport has also contributed. 95 Like several other UK regions and cities, Cornwall also has a London-based diaspora organisation: the London Cornish Association, a ‘non-political, non-sectarian, cultural and social organisation which promotes and fosters fellowship and goodwill among Cornish people in London and elsewhere’. 96
8. Connectivity through transport
Heathrow is the busiest airport in Europe, in terms of passenger numbers, and one of the busiest in the world. It is the UK’s main ‘hub’ airport, and flies to over 180 destinations in 90 countries around the world, with internal flights to several UK cities. The airport also handles over 30 per cent of non-EU UK exports. 97 Heathrow connects the UK to the world, via London. Its role in the UK economy was repeatedly mentioned in interviews for this report – as were the measures that the airport has taken to engage with the rest of the country.
Roundtables with business and political leaders were held in all 12 regions or countries in the UK in early 2017, to find out how Heathrow could assist with local priorities. 98 The airport has made it one of its ‘flagship goals’ to connect the largest 100 towns and cities in the UK to Heathrow by 2030, whether by air or rail, ‘to create opportunities all over the country and deliver a stronger UK’. 99 Heathrow (alongside the Department for International Trade), also awards 20 grants to UK SMEs a year through its ‘World of Opportunity’ programme, to fund trade missions, research global markets, and help grow UK exports. 100 Business summits across the UK help Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) to access Heathrow’s supply chain and other SME networks. Heathrow is also considering its role in promoting non-London tourism, pledging advertising space within its terminals to other UK regions and countries. 97 Works for the proposed expansion of the airport are planned to take place off-site as much as possible, with four ‘logistics hubs’ to be located outside of London. 102
The impact of these measures remains to be seen. But Heathrow’s regional engagement programmes demonstrate the important interconnectivity of London and the UK, and the hub and spoke role that London plays in the national economy, in a tangible way.
Attempts to strengthen the spokes that draw investment, tourism and prosperity out from the capital and across the country should be welcomed.
9. Private sector collaboration
London’s private sector can also play a role in engaging with regional partners and working to better connect the capital with the rest of the UK. The Sheffield Property Association (SPA) is a property-focused business membership group, established in 2017. It brings together over 50 Sheffield-based businesses and individuals, including developers, lawyers and investors. It exists to provide a ‘critical friend’ to government, helping to shape policy at a local level and promoting Sheffield and its investment opportunities around the world. It claims to be the only property association outside of London in the UK.
The SPA was formed after consultation with the London Property Alliance, which consists of the City and Westminster Property Associations (London Property Alliance). London Property Alliance provided advice and practical help in the early stages of its establishment, including in designing a constitution and structure. The SPA and the London Property Alliance continue to work closely together to mutual benefit, with the London-based organisation benefitting from its younger partner’s fresh thinking as the SPA benefits from the London Property Alliance’s experience. Both organisations also find mutual advantage in being able to present a national message and advocate for areas of shared interest. The organisations have presented jointly at conferences and exhibitions such as MIPIM, both nationally and internationally, and continue regular knowledge sharing meetings and exchanges.
10. Grassroots inter-regional initiatives
‘Boston More in Common’ (BMiC) is a grassroots voluntary organisation working on improving integration within Boston. However, BMiC was first established in the wake of a BBC Radio Four programme that featured a small group of Leave voters from Boston, the highest Leave voting constituency in the country, and a group of Remain voters from Lambeth, the Remain equivalent. Working alongside Lambeth More in Common, BMiC organised a small scale ‘twinning’ initiative, akin to a cultural exchange programme, bringing people together to discover how much more they shared than divided them.
‘Cornwall Hugs Grenfell’ is another interregional grassroots initiative, albeit one that arose from tragedy. Following the Grenfell Tower fire, a Facebook post expressing sympathy with the victims soon expanded into a charitable project, providing Grenfell survivors, neighbours and firefighters with free travel and accommodation for a restorative stay in Cornwall. Local businesses, travel providers and holiday homes have all donated their services, in a bid to show solidarity and help those affected, and over 20 per cent of Grenfell survivors have now visited Cornwall as part of the initiative. 103
During the memorial service that followed the Manchester Arena bombing of May 2017, cranes across both Manchester and London were turned to face in the direction of the arena in a poignant show of solidarity. 104 With the attack coming shortly after the Westminster Bridge attack in London, the two cities then made a joint bid to central government for ‘recovery funding’, to help restore and protect their reputations as tourist destinations. International bloggers were invited to visit both cities as part of one trip, as part of an effort to promote their tourist appeal. Manchester’s tourist sector has proven surprisingly resilient since the Arena bombing. 105 It should not take a tragedy – and it does not need to – but these examples demonstrate the potential for more regional cooperation at all times, not just in times of hardship.