Less “alpha male” politics, please – that was the call from Sadiq Khan to Downing Street last week, amid growing concerns that the government is intent on “dismantling” the 1999 devolution settlement which saw the creation of the mayoralty.
“If they want more power in London they need to win the election,” the Mayor said, speaking to reporters last week after an online “Speak to Sadiq” question and answer session organised by the London Labour Party at which Khan took questions from non-Labour and floating voters and from Londoners who had voted Conservative for the first time at last year’s general election.
Downing Street seems to have “got it in for London,” Khan said, nevertheless predicting that the Prime Minister’s team would “calm down after we’ve won a landslide victory”. While relations with some cabinet members are good, a more “collegiate” approach overall is needed, he added, calling on the capital’s residents to back him in urging the government to “do right” by London.
“London is the country’s economic engine. It is in all our interests to understand that London is crucial to our country’s wealth and prosperity”, he said, adding that the government needs to learn the lessons of its slow response to the Covid-19 pandemic and act quickly to avert an “existential” threat to the capital.
Action should include extending the business rates holiday for another year, targeted help for hard-pressed retail, culture, hospitality and leisure businesses, including further furlough support in those areas, and retraining for the 1.3 million Londoners currently furloughed and at risk of unemployment, Khan said.
His call came as figures released by Labour suggested that more than £72 million in emergency government grant funding earmarked for London businesses remained unallocated and at risk of being “clawed back”. £1.4 billion unallocated nationally should be redirected into a Hospitality and High Street Fightback Fund, the party said.
Khan also repeated his call for an immediate inquiry into the UK response to the pandemic, in order to learn lessons “in real time”. And he confirmed his intention to relocate the capital’s seat of government to Newham’s Royal Docks, saving £55 million against a background of up to £500 million shortfalls in Greater London Authority budgets over the coming two years.
The Mayor also confirmed that he expected his London Plan – the planning and development blueprint for the capital – to be signed off by the government “sooner rather than later”.
The draft Plan, in preparation since 2017, fell at its final hurdle in early March, when communities secretary Robert Jenrick refused to approve it. The intervention came just before the expected launch of hostilities ahead of the mayoral election, since postponed to next year. The last formal contact between Khan and Jenrick was on April 24.
The Plan was now more relevant than ever, Khan said, with its “good growth” focus on protecting open space, promoting active travel, work-life balance and high-quality design. The government’s recently-unveiled planning reform proposals, threatening to further undermine the strategic role of the Mayor according to some commentators, as well as reducing those of local councillors in determining planning applications, are a “pig’s ear”, he added, predicting a U-turn on the plans.
Transport for London will be introducing dedicated “school buses” as schools return after the summer, Khan said, with capacity increased to 60 rather than 30, and every other bus on key routes reserved for schoolchildren.
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