“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.

 
 
 
 

Here’s how Copenhagen puts cyclists at the top of the social hierarchy

A cyclist in Copenhagen, obviously. Image: Red Bull/Getty.

Have you ever wondered why Britain is not a nation of cyclists? Why we prefer to sit in traffic as our Dutch and Danish neighbours speed through the city on bikes?

Forget about hills, rain, and urban sprawl: the real reason we aren’t cycling is much closer to home. It is not just lack of infrastructure, or lack of fitness, the reason that 66 per cent of Brits cycle less than once a year, is because of status.

An obsession with social status is hard-wired into our brains. As we have built a society that relies on cars, the bicycle has slipped to the periphery, and gone from being regarded as a sensible mode of transport, to a deviant fringe-dwellers choice.

Even though cycling to work has been shown to be one of the most effective things an individual can do to improve health and longevity, researcher David Horton thinks that there are a set of collective anxieties that are stopping us getting in the saddle. These include not just an unwillingness to be made vulnerable, but fear of being thought of as poor.

A quick look over the North Sea shows that there is an alternative. Danish culture has elevated cycling to the point of reverence, and the social status of cyclists has followed. As we have busied ourselves building infrastructure that testifies to the dominance of the car, Denmark has been creating magnificent architectural features, aimed specifically at bike users. The Cycle Snake, or Cykelslangen, literally suspends the cyclist above the city, metaphorically elevating the cyclist and creating a sense of ceremony.

In doing so, they are subtly persuading people of all backgrounds to see past their prejudices or fears and take it up as the clearly better choice. This means there are more women cycling, more older people cycling, and more ethnic minorities cycling. The activity is less dominated by comfortably middle class white males: there are cyclists from every side of the community.  

The Cykelslangen, under construction in 2014. Image: Ursula Bach and Dissing+Weitling architecture.

Despite abstract motivations like getting ripped and conquering global warming, it is only when the bike path becomes the obviously better choice that people will start to cycle. It can take years of traffic jams before people try an alternative, but if you make motorists jealous of cyclists, then the tables can quickly turn.

Another way that Copenhagen has done this is by taking privileges normally afforded only to the motorcar, and given them to the bike. The city has ensured that cycle routes do not include blind corners or dark tunnels, and that they form a complete, coherent network, and a steadily flowing system – one that allows cyclists to maintain a reasonable pace, and minimises the amount of times you have to put your foot down.

The ‘Green Wave’, for example, is a co-ordinated traffic light system on some of the main thoroughfares of the capital that helps minimise the amount of cycle congestion during peak times. It maintains a steady flow of cycle traffic, so that there is no need to stop at any point.


Small measures of prioritisation like this one increase the sense of safety and consideration that cyclists experience, making it natural for the citizens of a city to act in their own self-interest and get on their bike.

As well as redefining the streets around the bicycle, the Copenhagen Cycle Chic blog positively fetishises cyclists. The tagline “dress for your destination, not your journey” depicts the social fashion life of the cycle lane as a “never ending flow of happy people heading from A to B”. Its writers are  literally making cycling sexy, dispelling the idea that going anywhere by bike is odd, and helping the world to see that the bicycle is actually the ultimate fashion accessory.

So unlike in London, where cycling is still a predominantly male pursuit, Copenhagen sees a more even split between men and women. Not just because they feel safer on the roads, but because culturally they are comfortable with their appearance as part of a highly visible group.

So while our low level of cycling is partly due to our physical infrastructure, it is also due to our cultural attitudes. The mental roadblocks people have towards cycling can be overcome by infrastructure that is not only safe, but also brings old-fashioned notions of dignity and grace into the daily commute.

Of course, office shower facilities might stop cyclists being ostracised, too.