London continues to face major challenges and huge financial uncertainty in the face of the Covid pandemic. That was the stark assessment of Sadiq Khan’s chief of staff David Bellamy as the London Assembly’s budget and performance committee began its scrutiny of the Mayor’s pledges for his second term of office.
But Khan has big plans, Bellamy said, ranging from getting London back on its feet, boosting jobs and skills and tackling violence, to securing funding for Transport for London, moving ahead on City Hall’s Green New Deal, building more affordable homes and providing new opportunities for young people.
“It is a big manifesto and it will be challenging to deliver,” Bellamy said. “But given the situation London is in, it’s right that the Mayor takes an ambitious approach. We’ve all got to be ambitious.”
Saving “as many jobs as possible” is the top priority, said Khan’s newly-appointed deputy chief of staff Richard Watts, making his first appearance before the Assembly having recently stood down as leader of Islington Council. “Many businesses are teetering on the edge, particularly in the hospitality sector.”
Watts highlighted the Mayor’s £6 million Let’s Do London campaign for encouraging domestic tourism as well as his new academy for hospitality skills, which targets support for lower paid Londoners through the City Hall adult education budget, “anchor institution” work with the capital’s largest employers and longer-term Green New Deal job creation.
And he challenged the government to match Khan’s intention to build bridges with Whitehall post-election by ensuring that London does not lose out under the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF), money designed to replace European Social Fund funding which had previously supported skills and training in the capital.
“All of us know that we are not a city paved with gold,” he said. “There is serious deprivation in our city and, given the levels of poverty, unemployment and economic challenge affecting many Londoners, it would be a good indication of the government building bridges as well if they were to give London more priority under the new fund.” City Hall is still awaiting a government response to concerns about initial UKSPF proposals, he added.
Bellamy also highlighted wider financial worries, including uncertainty about future funding under the next government spending review (expected in the autumn) and TfL still being a “long way” from financial sustainability. He said the TfL board, chaired by Khan, would be agreeing a revised 2021/22 budget on 28 July 28 in response to government demands in the six-month funding deal announced last month for some £900 million savings this year.
TfL bosses are confident the savings can be made, Bellamy said, but the government’s focus on balancing the books on operating costs by 2023 meant there would be delays in capital spending on signalling and rolling stock renewals, as well as funding longer-term improvements such as the Bakerloo Line extension.
“The costs of replacing rolling stock and upgrading signalling are beyond the capacity of TfL to fund,” he said. “There needs to be government involvement, as there is for national rail”. This also applies so making up shortfalls on “active travel” funding as well as finding the estimated £1 billion needed for a fully zero emission bus fleet by Khan’s 2030 target date.
Bellamy confirmed that the future of TfL’s Emirates Air-Line cable car running between the Greenwich peninsula and the Royal Docks was up for discussion, with its current sponsorship deal ending next year. He also told AMs that funding for an additional 1,000 police officers agreed by Khan earlier this year was secure until March 2025.
The discussion came as new labour market figures showed unemployment in London to be higher than in any other region in the three months to April and 40 per cent higher than the national average. Khan has led calls for additional government support for businesses and workers following Boris Johnson’s announcement that the end of all Covid restrictions is now delayed until 19 July.
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