Tuesday 26 April 2016 4:59 am

From data analytics to broadband, lazy “business as usual” isn’t good enough from London’s next mayor

On 5 May, a new mayor will be elected to run London. The new mayor’s ability to make life better for Londoners will depend not just on good policies but also on how well he or she can make the capital’s governing machinery work.

London’s first two mayors have both been big figures, who in different ways acted as successful champions of the city and established the mayoralty as a serious political office. But neither was much interested in machinery of government issues. As a result, the existing machinery is far from being fit for purpose. It’s no coincidence that the typical Londoner struggles to think of things that London’s governing institutions have achieved over the last decade, with a handful of exceptions like rentable bikes, which the capital introduced well after Berlin and Paris.

The role of mayor was originally intended to be strategic – overseeing arms-length bodies like Transport for London, the Metropolitan Police, the Fire Service, and promotional bodies like London and Partners – and supported by a small staff in a deliberately small building designed for around 250 people. London’s mayor is not as powerful as many others globally. But the role brings with it a huge capacity to mobilise, convene and drive.

So how should the mayor organise his team to better solve London’s big problems?

The first priority is to align the governance structures with the mayor’s priorities by entrenching the practice of appointing deputy mayors each responsible for one of the administration’s key strategic aims. These would be likely to include transport, growth, housing, skills, environment and policing. Other fields, like health, could become much more important if there were to be a devolution of powers comparable to Manchester. The deputy mayors would be responsible for overall strategy, preferably with clear goals and milestones, and pulling together the right mix of funding, planning, regulatory and other changes needed to get results. They should also oversee the performance of London’s many agencies.

Next the mayor needs to tie in the big stakeholders who make London tick. The London Enterprise Panel should grow its role as a business-led organisation dedicated to promoting growth. It needs a deputy mayor for growth with a good feel for how business in London works, and how to remove any obstacles in the way of London’s remarkably dynamic economy.

Then the mayor should try new ways of tapping the brainpower of London’s citizens. There’s bound to be more smart people outside City Hall than inside. Other cities around the world have done this with an array of tools: innovation labs and teams from New York to Seoul; online digital tools allowing citizens to propose ideas from Helsinki and Paris to Barcelona; and the use of challenge prizes that reward innovators with good ideas.

The bureaucracy then needs to be streamlined. London needs a chief executive, who can work very closely with the mayor to implement his or her ideas. The current rather odd arrangement, with a head of paid service and a chief of staff, is anomalous. London also badly needs a chief digital officer. There is no official, or politician, with the authority to knock heads together, or, for example, to ensure that London does well in growing fields like the Internet of Things. The continued weakness of the capital on broadband connectivity is another symptom of this gap. Many other cities around the world have created a strong chief technology or chief information officer role.

As many of London’s industries know well, good decisions rely on good data. GLA Economics provides a very high quality service around statistics and data. But London is far behind best practice in terms of tracking progress, adjusting goals in the light of data, and so on. This is where a beefed up office of data analytics could become a central part of the machinery, bringing together data of all kinds – from web-scraping to open data and surveys – to help inform decisions at every level.

London’s economy is thriving. But the city has probably gone backwards in terms of social policy, housing and other areas. In other fields its gains may be at risk. For example, the big advances achieved in London’s schools have partly resulted from very generous funding which is unlikely to continue. If the newly-elected mayor wants Londoners to remember results achieved in a few years time, he or she needs to put in place systems and structures that will help that happen. A lazy “business as usual” approach just won’t be good enough.

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