As we redefine levelling up, don’t ignore the poverty in London for political points
In the last week, we have had a new government and a new head of state. To say it has been a moment of change at the top of Britain would be a gross understatement.
Over the next few weeks we will see which Johnson-era policies survive. Already there have been suggestions the obesity strategy, including calorie counts on menus, could be scrapped. But the levelling up agenda is so broad, it can be reshaped in Truss’ own image.
This is welcome news. As someone who grew up on a council estate near Huddersfield there are huge swathes of the country in need of proper investment.
But how we do this in London is often overlooked. In many ways this is understandable, there is great wealth in the city and an excellent transport infrastructure. It is the base of world leading businesses providing good quality and high paid jobs to Londoners.
But London is also home to some of the most deprived areas in the country. Not only are there entire regions which are incredibly deprived, but there are pockets of poverty in practically every borough of London, including some of the most affluent. The people in these areas face many of the same challenges as poor people in other regions of the UK, and so they should not be ignored in discussions about levelling up.
There can be no levelling up without London – we would simply not be able to afford it. The vast tax revenue raised from economic activity in London is used by the government to fund its commitments – including the levelling up budget. As such, it is essential that Simon Clarke, the new Levelling Up Secretary puts London at the very heart of his agenda.
Obviously, a big part of this is money. More money needs to be spent to help regenerate deprived areas in London to make them safe to live in. At the same time, the Metropolitan Police Force is, in many ways, a failing organisation in dire need of reform to keep Londoners safe. Greater investment also needs to be made to ensure people in the most deprived areas of London and surrounding areas can access jobs and educational opportunities in the city.
It’s not all about funding though. London would be better off if people and businesses were left to get on with things. Take housing for example: supply has failed to keep up with demand due to the restrictive planning system. This is hampering productivity and holding back London’s economic growth. It is the same story when it comes to pedestrianisation, or late licences for bars and restaurants. Businesses and the vast majority of Londoners want these things as they improve our lives and bring economic growth, but they are often blocked by local authorities. Clarke should take the planning permission power away from many local authorities in London so that we can ensure buildings and economic growth are not stifled by rent-seeking Nimbys.
Then there is taxation. London is home to a vast number of successful businesses and thriving sectors such as technology and financial services which create jobs and have brought huge wealth to the country. While it is right that they pay tax, the new government should be wary about increasing the burden on them.
Levelling up is incredibly important and it should remain a priority for the government. However, London should be front and centre of the levelling up agenda