“London is flourishing – but there are no guarantees that it will remain so”

Tower Bridge and City Hall, London. Image: Getty.

London is a prosperous and flourishing mega-city – but there are no guarantees that it will remain so. Great cities fall, as well as rise. New ideas and long-term planning are needed if the capital’s current global status is to endure.

The King’s Commission on London, whose report, London 2030 and beyond, was launched last week with mayor Sadiq Khan, has produced recommendations to help guard against the city’s decline in three key areas: its economy, health policy and skills training & apprenticeships.

London’s economy over the next 12 years and beyond could take a number of paths. The report maps out four, based on two key variables: the role of the UK in the global economy, especially how open and international it remains after Brexit; and the role of London within the national economy – essentially how supportive of the capital the UK government continues to be.

First, it could become a more inward-looking economy, with higher trade barriers, a relatively weak currency, the loss of some businesses to the EU and elsewhere and reduced foreign investment. At the same time, however, the UK government could continue its extensive support to the capital. The report calls this scenario “Paris on Thames”.

Second, on both the international and domestic front, London could be disadvantaged – an inward-looking economy post-Brexit and withdrawal of UK government support in an effort to “rebalance the economy”. This is called “1970s London”. We have been there before – and we don’t want to go back.   

The third scenario is “Modern Rome”: still a very international city, but lacking domestic government support, so the quality of life and services deteriorate.

The fourth is essentially the status quo: “super city”. London both retains its international openness and standing, and continues to receive the support it needs from the UK government. This requires, after Brexit, continued membership of the customs union and single market, or their equivalents in practice. A regional-based immigration policy – as in some other countries – would also be helpful.

As the report shows, this fourth scenario gives the best outcome for London in terms of employment, output and productivity, and it is what policymakers in both national and London government should be aiming for.


On health, poorly planned reorganisations have left London’s healthcare services fragmented and complex. Accountability has suffered as a result. A city-wide strategic body, overseen by the mayor, should be established to manage clinical networks and joint planning of services.

Giving the mayor such oversight, and control of the budgets to go with it, could also enable a necessary shift of resources to primary care services, and relieve the pressure on the city’s hospitals.

Equally, more powers for the mayor and London government would improve the state of skills training and apprenticeships in the city. The planned devolution to London in 2019 of the Adult Education Budget is a step in the right direction. The mayor should also be given a share of any unspent apprenticeship levy funds – which are currently just sitting in the Treasury – to supplement skills funding and help address the fact that London has the lowest number of apprenticeships starts per head in the UK.

But funding alone is not enough. An Apprenticeship Levy Council, chaired by the mayor and comprising members from the boroughs, London businesses, colleges and City Hall, should be set up to assist companies in spending their levy.

The mayor should also use both existing and already-planned powers, as well as those additional ones which the Commission advocates, to help further education colleges adapt their provision to meet changing skills shortages. They need to provide both apprenticeship training and non-award-bearing courses to meet these shortages, as and when they arise.     

Extending the scheme for Advanced Learner Loans, with better terms for those seeking training in specialities with higher shortages, such as biotech and construction, would also benefit the capital.

The Commission is clear: London can continue to prosper, ultimately, if it has more power of decision and autonomy to raise and spend the resources needed. The current over-centralised management of health and skills is damaging to London’s prospects and ability to succeed in the decade to come. Make these changes and the capital will be able, much more, to thrive.    

Tony Halmos is director of the Commission on London in the Policy Institute, King’s College London.

 
 
 
 

Marseille and Paris are crawling with rats. But it’s your problem too

A Parisian rat. Image: Getty.

You can very easily have a fine time in Marseille, but it is likely to be interrupted by rats.

The bloated and brazen beasts are so utterly convinced they own the place that they barely register any human presence to distract from their hedonistic excesses – throwing wild street parties, burrowing holes in overflowing bins, and darting in and out of exclusive harbourfront restaurants. We only really intrude when the occasional, blissfully oblivious rat is splattered across the cobblestones by a scooter.

For many residents, the whiskery foes have gone some way beyond a nuisance to represent a genuine menace. Rats have infested schools and taken over canteens. Pest control services claim they have broken into cars and gnawed through cables, which may have contributed to accidents. It is also alleged that they have caused Internet outages by attacking fibre-optic cables – continuing the venerable horror movie tradition of cutting the power seen in Aliens and Jurassic Park. Rats are also infamous and prolific traffickers of disease and have raised the threat of Leptospirosis.

Rat populations are fiendishly difficult to quantify, given their nocturnal lifestyle and that many live off-grid in the sewers; but by some estimates they now outnumber Marseille’s human inhabitants. Distress calls from the public to the city’s sanitation department and pest control services have increased, and the unofficial fifth emergency service has expanded its operations in response, laying poison traps and sweeping the gutters.

Several factors have contributed to the rat supremacy. Marseille’s Mediterranean climate has always been hospitable to rats, and a series of unusually warm summers – often passing 30°C – have made it more so. (Rats tend to stop breeding when it’s cold.)

City officials also bemoan the wanton waste disposal habits of their citizens, which have allowed large and easily accessible piles of appetising trash to accumulate. Marseille’s councillor for hygiene Monique Daubet recently complained the city has become a “five-star restaurant for rats”.

Others have suggested a series of strikes by garbage collectors gave the rat population a turbo charge it barely needed. A single pair of brown rats can spawn more than a thousand descendants within a year.

That formidable birth rate is one indicator of what the city is up against: the urban rat is almost a perfect predator. Millennia of human ingenuity has failed to remove them from our midst or negate the threats they pose. Rats are supreme survivors – scientists marvel at their survival on nuclear test sites – and they thrive in the most inhospitable environments. They can eat practically anything, but are neophobic, meaning they shy away from all but the most devious poison traps. The rodents are intelligent, resilient, and their ability to colonise new habitats rivals our own.

Faced with this adversary, the local authority has assigned more resources to the fight, through both the city’s sanitation department and the private extermination service A3DS. Both are reluctant to discuss their tactics and whether they are having an impact. But officials are also taking a tough line on public responsibility, insisting that residents dispose of trash after 7pm in sealed bags or face fines. The city has also proposed measures such as mobile dumps and new model bins that rats should find harder to access.

The Marseillais are also keeping a close eye on events in the capital: Paris’ rat problem may be even more severe, driven by flooding from the River Seine that has forced the rodents to seek higher ground. In recent years, rats have overrun the Louvre and forced the closure of public parks, as well as starring in viral video nasties that do little for the city’s image as the capital of romance.


Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo has sounded the alarm and invested millions of euros in a campaign against rats, which has seen thousands of raids in hundreds of parks and buildings, as well as the introduction of more secure bins, and fines levied against people accused of feeding the enemy. Her administration has also despatched an envoy to New York to study the city’s approach to its own notorious rodent community.

An international approach makes sense given that rats are on the march all around the world. Reported sightings have shot up in New York, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, and Washington. One study estimated that rats inflict $19 billion of economic damage each year in the US alone. London has also seen an increase in reported sightings. Leading rodentologist Bobby Corrigan says the same patterns are playing out in the major cities of the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Australia.

And for much the same reasons. Contributing factors include “too few resources allocated an organised program for rat control,” says Corrigan. “Also, more people in our cities means more refuse, more overloading of the city’s sanitation budgets, less thorough removal of the kind of food shrapnel that escapes typical garbage collection. Each rat only needs about 30 grams of food per 24 hours to thrive and reproduce.” A warming climate also plays a part.

Poison traps and culls can only go so far, says the rodentologist, arguing that a holistic approach is required to head off the growing threat. “The best measure is a city organised in addressing the rats across all agencies,” says Corrigan. That means mobilising departments of sanitation, parks, housing, health, and sewers, as well as mayoral administrations themselves.

Society-wide civic participation is also essential. “Controlling rats takes everyone: every homeowner, shop owner, restaurant, grocery store, airport, and so on. Not to do so invites the risk of a “new and/or highly virulent virus” developing among our old enemies, he adds.

Research into sterilisation programmes offers some hope of a new weapon to repel and reduce the rodent hordes. But not enough for us to evade responsibility while rat populations grow and the threat increases. “If we don’t work together as the wise species we claim to be and present a scientific, multi-faceted organised effort against this very smart and organised smaller mammal, we can have no hope of defeating it,” says Corrigan. Time to man the barricades.