Over the last few months, coronavirus has forced our elected representatives to make some tough choices. And the overwhelming majority of Londoners have supported them.
We stopped going into offices. We stopped making unnecessary trips to the shops. We shut down pubs, restaurants and hospitality businesses for months on end. We followed the rules, played our part and slowed the spread of the virus.
It was the right thing to do. But it’s now clear that we can’t completely get rid of coronavirus till we have a vaccine. So as elected representatives, it’s our job to start thinking about the broader cost of our decisions.
Look around London and you see a city that has stalled. Tube use is down 70%. High streets are empty. 69% of Londoners are still working from home.
We can talk about the cost to the economy — but we should also think about the cost to Londoners themselves. Because the truth is that I don’t believe coronavirus is a good reason to put hundreds of thousands of jobs at risk.
Our city is built on people. And the more restrictions people face, the more our city is unable to function. If we keep introducing new restrictions on businesses and workers, we’re putting livelihoods at risk — from small businesses to people who were struggling long before coronavirus hit.
This hasn’t gone unnoticed among the business community. Businesses have taken huge steps to make their offices safe. Temperature checks, hygiene facilities, socially distanced workplaces — these are now common. Businesses are doing whatever it takes to keep Londoners safe and get them back into offices.
But their efforts have not been matched by the Mayor of London.
Instead of being innovative, like the Chancellor, and working with government and businesses on incentives to get people into central London, Sadiq Khan has told people worried about their livelihoods to get used to it. He agrees that countless businesses need to operate at near-full capacity to survive. But his message to those businesses is grim: don’t expect London to be busy any time soon.
It’s easy for the Mayor to constantly call for more restrictions. He doesn’t have a minimum-wage job, or run a small business, or work in a shop that depends on customers. He’s got a salary covered by taxpayers — a salary that he’ll continue to receive, regardless of how bad the economy gets.
But most Londoners don’t have the luxury of a guaranteed salary. Instead, they have to live by the central truth of economics: that one person’s spending is another person’s income. And if people aren’t spending, then people aren’t getting income.
It’s not just the hospitality, leisure and retail industries that depend on customers. Think about all the businesses that exist only to serve other businesses. IT companies, office-supply companies, printers, caterers, cleaners, even newspapers — the list goes on.
You might not feel much sympathy for the high-powered PR exec who loses their job. But you might feel some sympathy for the minimum-wage cleaner who can no longer find work.
So if Sadiq Khan thinks that people like this should find other jobs, then he needs to level with us. If he thinks that it’s time to give up on London, then we need to know. Because it’s certainly not what other countries and cities believe.
Look at Germany, where more than three quarters of people are back in offices. Look at France, where 82% of workers are back in offices. Then look at London, where workers are much more likely to be at home compared to workers in Europe’s biggest cities, including Berlin and Paris.
Our Mayor’s actions suggest that he doesn’t care all that much about a recovery. He increased the congestion charge and extended it to seven days a week. He refused to reopen the Waterloo and City Line. He let Hammersmith Bridge close yet again, leaving residents and emergency services without a reliable river crossing.
He spent the crisis talking about the EU, which he has no control over, rather than doing something about rising crime and struggling businesses, which he has full control over. Most worryingly of all, he’s got no plan to get London moving again.
Londoners deserve better. If I were Mayor, I would launch a big campaign to get London moving again. This campaign would be aimed to reach everyone — from top CEOs to workers on the frontlines. And it wouldn’t be led by City Hall alone. I would use the Mayor’s powers to bring businesses and the public sector together, working on incentives and coordinating messages.
And I’d fix the mistakes that Sadiq Khan made during this crisis. Reversing his congestion charge hike. Reopening the Waterloo and City line. Binning his plans to defund the police by £110 million. And focusing relentlessly on the welfare of every resident in every community, not worrying about issues outside of my control.
This is what we need. Mass working from home just isn’t a permanent option. So for the sake of jobs, for the sake of Londoners, let’s get London moving again.
Read more: Mayor calls for curfew rethink