Where is Sadiq Khan's plan to save London's economy from terminal decline?
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan is right to warn that there will be no national recovery without a London recovery. Our capital is a gigantic economic powerhouse, which in every past recession has led Britain back to prosperity. But this time, it may be the last place to recover. Yet, the Mayor fails to recognise that he is one of the biggest obstacles to London's recovery – and given the huge challenges facing London, that's an enormous own goal.
To kickstart London's economic recovery, the Mayor ought to do three things. Firstly, come up with an economic recovery strategy to find a way out of this crisis. Secondly, get London moving safely again. Finally, deliver new homes and transport upgrades. This would require the Mayor to roll up his sleeves, as both Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson did as Mayor during a crisis, take responsibility and show leadership. Unfortunately, if Khan's time in office shows us anything, he is not the man for the job.
Together with my Conservative colleagues on the London Assembly, we've been calling for the Mayor to urgently publish an economic recovery strategy since June. Supposedly, there is one in the making in City Hall, but so far, there has been no sign of it. Without one, City Hall will continue to be rudderless and ineffective when it comes to helping London's recovery. It's irresponsible that more than seven months into this crisis, and with difficult winter months ahead, there is no plan at City Hall to protect and create jobs in London.
It's difficult to exaggerate the scale of economic destruction that has taken place in the London Assembly constituency which I represent. My constituency includes three boroughs at the heart of the capital, which were once thriving with dynamic businesses, world-class theatres, and renowned tourist attractions. But to stop the spread of coronavirus, the lifeblood of central London's economy has been drained. For more than seven months, there have been few office workers, few tourists, little footfall and much of London's culture venues have been closed.
As we head into the winter months, it's unlikely that any new restrictions introduced now will be lifted until the spring. That means central London could lay empty for more than a year. This is an economic catastrophe, and yet, instead of working to safely get our city moving and open, Khan is championing yet more restrictions. While coronavirus is the biggest public health emergency in generations, the economic consequences of Sadiq Khan's 'London is closed' approach risks making it an extinction-level event for the capital's economy.
It may prove necessary for new restrictions to be introduced in London if the latest national measures do not slow the spread of the virus. If so, Londoners would expect that the Mayor would be urgently looking at how this would impact people's livelihoods. Yet, we have heard nothing from the Mayor on how City Hall would mitigate the economic consequences of a local lockdown. Without a plan to protect jobs or rebuild London's economy, Khan's push for tighter measures in London is self-harm at its worst.
To make matters even worse, the Mayor's disastrous transport policies in response to coronavirus are grinding the capital to a halt. Khan's congestion charge hike has led to a 27% reduction in cars travelling into central London, damaging businesses and discouraging people from returning to the capital. While TfL's anti-car measures are causing gridlock across the city with congestion in parts of London soaring past pre-lockdown levels. So much for his promise to be "the greenest Mayor ever".
Added to this newly created transport chaos are the consequences of Khan's incompetent handling of London's transport network for the past four and a half years. In my corner of London, the Mayor's dither, delay and blame game over Hammersmith Bridge has left south-west Londoners trapped for more than 18 months. We can't ignore the latest delay to Crossrail which leaves the Elizabeth Line nearly four years late and more than £3 billion over budget. And that's on top of the 21 transport upgrades which have been delayed or cancelled on Khan's watch.
Housebuilding has not escaped Khan's reverse Midas touch either. At exactly the moment when London needs the Mayor to build, build, build, Khan's stopped building. He's delayed his £4.82 billion housebuilding programme, which supposedly was meant to start building 116,000 new homes by 2022. Considering that half of these homes haven't been started after four years, it's hardly a surprise Khan's jumped at a chance to blame coronavirus and extend the deadline.
London is facing an existential crisis. And the capital, unfortunately, is being led by the worst Mayor the city has ever seen. Without a Mayor with a recovery plan, the ability to deliver new homes and transport upgrades, or sensible policies to get London moving, the capital may emerge from this crisis permanently poorer. That's not just devastating for my constituents, but as Khan warns, for the country as a whole.
Article by Tony Devenish AM first published by The Telegraph.