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.