Monday 26 April 2021 7:00 am

London Mayoral election: The leader of the capital needs the constitutional power to get the job done

John Dickie is the Interim CEO of London First

The Mayoral election is just over one week away. You will be easily forgiven if it’s not at the forefront of your mind – over the last year London has been hammered by the pandemic. The capital has lost more jobs than any other region, with a disproportionate effect on younger people, those in lower skilled jobs and those from minority ethnic groups. The Central Activities Zone – the cultural and culinary hub of our capital – spent months virtually empty as people remained at home. 

As we unlock, that is beginning to change, but it leaves the next Mayor with some major challenges. Not least because the Greater London Authority cannot, alone, tackle many of the issues the city faces. The London Mayoralty is in its infancy in institutional terms, at just 21 years old, and it lacks the full suite of powers it needs. London First campaigned for the Mayoralty to be established and we continue to make the case for the institution to continue to make the case for the institution to be given the tools to do the job that London and its businesses need.

Given the previous Mayor is now the Prime Minister, this is the moment for him to display the reforming radicalism that he called for when running London to give the London Mayor – and other metro mayors – the powers to drive their local recovery.

The fundamental issue is, as is so often the case, money. The London Mayor and all the boroughs between them retain only a tiny proportion of the taxes raised here – less than ten percent. The equivalent in New York is over fifty per cent. When Boris Johnson was Mayor, he set up a commission to look at how this should change, which proposed devolving more tax revenues to London government. Its recommendations should now be implemented.  And with resources come responsibilities – over decisions on transport, skills, employment, housing, planning and economic development. These decisions are better made locally, working with London businesses.

London will recover from the pandemic as it has from previous disasters – it just depends how fast. It took over 70 years for London’s population to recover from its pre-WW2 peak. The city needs a robust plan for economic recovery, not least so that the return to growth in London can support recovery across the UK. Our members – from hospitality firms to lawyers, property developers and internet providers – believe there are three key moves that will make this a success.

First, the next Mayor must be ambitious, and work at pace to encourage people back to central London. This is vital to provide trade to the sectors hit hardest by the pandemic, from our cultural institutions to leisure, hospitality, and retail businesses. Getting back will also be great for doing business – there are some things that just aren’t the same online. It’s people that create buzz and people that will maintain London’s position as the most exciting city on earth.

Second, the next Mayor must work with government to resolve, once and for all, the future funding of Transport for London. Public transport services are critical in getting people back into and around the city, but TfL’s revenues have been hit hard by the pandemic. For too long they’ve been given short-term financial settlements and been unable to plan for the future.

Third, the next Mayor must work to put in place a set of business-led reskilling programmes, so that unemployed Londoners are equipped to get the jobs London’s economy needs as the recovery gathers pace. A good first step is launching a new London Careers Service.Articulating, leading, and building support for London’s future requires a Mayor with passion and vision. Passion for our great city, understanding all its strengths while tackling its weaknesses. Vision for the kind of 21st century city we know London can become. It will take the right leadership, the right plans, and the right powers for the Mayoralty. After the political back and forth subsides and the next Mayor is in post, it’s time to work together to keep London the best city in the world.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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