There was a rare display of cross-party unity at the London Assembly yesterday, with members on all sides backing a call for Sadiq Khan to step up work on the capital’s economic recovery. A unanimously-agreed motion proposed by the Assembly’s Conservative group called on the Mayor to “set a date to publish an Economic Recovery Strategy for London as soon as possible, in order to support businesses across London in planning for their futures.”
Fault lines nevertheless remained as the Assembly quizzed deputy mayors Rajesh Agrawal and Jules Pipe, and Georgia Gould, leader of Camden Council and chair of the London Recovery taskforce economic working group.
The health and economic crises were “entirely interlinked”, said Agrawal, deputy mayor for business. “It’s our ability to deal with the virus, and to some extent to live with it, that will impact most heavily on the depth and the length of the economic crisis.” Without “urgent action” from government, he warned, “thousands of businesses and hundreds of thousands of jobs could be lost.”
And Pipe, deputy mayor for regeneration and skills, urged caution in planning recovery, as Tory assembly member Tony Devenish called for the Mayor, “once we get lockdown over”, to “get off his backside and shout from the rooftops that London is open”.
“This has to be guided by the context we are in,” said Pipe. “It’s hard for the government or the Mayor to predict what the situation will be in four to six weeks’ time. “The mayor would love to get people to come here, and stands ready to do that as soon as it is safe for people to do so. But we need to be really careful we fall on the right side of intervening only when it is safe to do so.”
There was still a danger in promoting tourism or what could turn out to be “super-spreader” events, Pipe continued, asking: “Eat out to Help Out was seen as an economic success, but was it exactly the right thing to do if the second wave of the virus could be attributed to encouraging people back into restaurants prematurely?”
Gould agreed the need for more urgency in providing short-term support from government, and suggested that the London Transition Board arrangements it had set up had been “cumbersome”. All levels of government in the capital were nevertheless working together “as never before” through the Mayor’s London Recovery Board, she said, providing practical support and guidance for boroughs, and funding for services, while also drawing up plans for “£1 billion-worth of shovel-ready green infrastructure projects”.
But Khan needs to “put his head above the parapet”, said Devenish. “We urge the Mayor to come up with the economic recovery strategy. We have been calling for this strategy to be published since June. We are told, somewhere in the bowels of City Hall, it is there. But like the Loch Ness monster we don’t seem to be able to find it. With Christmas fast approaching, this has to be the number one priority. We must make sure we lose no more jobs.”
Labour AMs would support the motion, said Leonie Cooper, chair of the assembly’s economy committee. “But we must recognise the challenges we face,” she added. “We really need the government to get on with having a functioning test and trace system. We can’t plan our strategy until we know what is going to come after the lockdown.”
The full Assembly plenary session can be viewed here.
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