The dust has settled somewhat on last week’s general election, and Londoners may be wondering what this means for their city. Yesterday’s Queen’s Speech confirmed the language favoured by the Conservatives during their campaign of ‘levelling up’ and commitments to invest in the infrastructure outside the capital, with promises such as ‘significant upgrades to urban commuter and regional services outside London’ and a focus on job-creation beyond London and the South East.
London has the highest wages in the UK, but faces significant and persistent challenges, such as the highest rates of poverty and homelessness in the country. It would be a mistake to forget this disparity in plans for ‘levelling up’, and the new government should make efforts to work with London to create a fairer, more inclusive capital.
Yesterday’s Queen’s Speech gave us the broad outline of the government’s agenda, and CLF looks forward to working with national government to develop the finer detail over the coming parliament. An initial reading of the accompanying briefing highlights several policies we anticipate having a significant impact on London’s local authorities, including a welcome and much needed additional £1billion for adult and children’s social care, a large focus on digital infrastructure and talk of reforming the business rates system. The fast track NHS visa is welcome but government should also consider potential gaps felt by other London industries and businesses post-Brexit. Recent research by the GLA highlights that 60% of jobs held by EEA workers in London would not meet the proposed skills and salary criteria of the government’s immigration proposals.
The section of the speech dedicated to devolution is promising and perhaps marks the benefit of the UK’s first ex-Mayoral Prime Minister. Boris Johnson has voiced his support for fiscal devolution to local authorities in the past, so it will be interesting to see how this is balanced with plans set out for more broader regional devolution and a promise for more ‘devolution deals’. Proposals to give local areas and communities more of a say on infrastructure spending are also welcome, although what this looks like in practice will be crucial.
Whilst local authorities are likely to support a review of the flawed business rates system, funding which is lost for them through the proposed reductions for shops, cinemas, music venues and pubs must be replaced from elsewhere. We should celebrate efforts to increase the success of London’s businesses, but they not must come at the expense of the critical services provided by councils such as street cleaning, homelessness services and care for disabled residents.
Central London shares many of the same challenges as the rest of the country when it comes to issues such as local authority funding, skills and infrastructure. Here’s to hoping that these mutual issues are addressed in the legislative programme of government over this Parliament. Again, we urge this new government to consider how central London’s priorities align with those across the country, and to work towards a more inclusive central London economy. Our thoughts on this are outlined in more detail in our Inclusive Growth and Skills Strategies.
Ellie Mitchell – 20.12.2019