Tuesday 8 September 2020 12:01 am

Shaun Bailey: London deserves better than the mayor's message of doom

Back to work

Tube use is down 70 per cent. High streets are empty. Only 17 per cent of people are back in offices. These are unprecedented times for London.

So you’d think the mayor of London would have a plan to get people back to their offices safely and securely. You’d think he would be innovative, like the chancellor, and work with the government and businesses on incentives to get people into central London. You’d think that at this time of crisis, the mayor’s role would be used like never before to help every resident in every community.

Read more: Everybody loves a comeback and London’s could be glorious

Instead, Sadiq Khan has told people worried about their livelihoods to get used to it. He agrees that any number of 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.

This kind of talk is easy for someone who does not run a small business, or drive a black cab, or work in a shop that depends on customers. It is the kind of talk that can only come from someone who sees London as a tourist destination, rather than a city where people live and work. It is the kind of talk that can only come from someone with a salary guaranteed by taxpayers.

Most Londoners do not have the luxury of a guaranteed salary. Most Londoners understand the central truth of economics: that one person’s spending is another person’s income. And it is 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 and on. You may not feel much sympathy with the high-powered ad executive who loses their job. But you may 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 is time to give up on London, then we need to know. Because right now, his actions suggest that he does not care all that much about a recovery.

Sadiq Khan increased the congestion charge and extended it to seven days a week, hitting families and businesses. He is refusing to reopen the Waterloo and City Line, even though workers are calling on him to do so. 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. And now he appears to have no plan to get London moving again. 

Londoners deserve better. But so does the rest of the country. London is nearly a quarter of the UK economy. Every Londoner provides £3,070 more in tax revenues than they get in public spending. And that surplus helps to pay for vital spending in less well-off regions. It is not just jobs in London we should be worrying about, but jobs across the country.

So 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. 

It would not 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 would 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.

Read more: Central London footfall jumps as office workers start to return

This is what we need. Because the truth is that mass working from home just isn’t a permanent option. People miss out on too much. Yes, they miss out on socialising with colleagues and after-work drinks. But they also miss out on personal development, on mentors, on making connections. 

So for the sake of jobs, businesses, the economy and workers – let’s help people get back to their offices. Let’s get London moving again.

Shaun Bailey is the Conservative candidate for the 2021 London mayoral election

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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