The announcement that Val Shawcross is to retire from her job as Sadiq Khan’s deputy mayor for transport over the summer foreshadows a big loss to the capital and the ability of those who run it to get good things done. Effecting major change in London, perhaps especially in the way people get around the place, requires patience, know-how, powers of persuasion, an ability to bring different interested parties together and a command of complex issues that all concerned recognise and respect. Shawcross has long possessed the full portfolio.
Just about everyone I’ve ever spoken to about the multiplying transport challenges London must address considers her to have been an asset to the city, be they top rank personnel at Transport for London or transport union negotiators or, including when in her previous role as a Labour London Assembly Member for Lambeth & Southwark and when chairing its transport committee, politicians from other parties. They might argue points with her or have different priorities, but never would they doubt her grasp of the workings of the capital’s transport systems or their technical and financial detail. Unkind criticism has been rare and confined to a handful of cranks.
Shawcross has long been a champion of London’s “sustainable” transport modes – walking, cycling and, perhaps most passionately, the bus. Though often taken for granted and struggling of late with congestion and falling ridership, the bus remains London’s most used public transport service overall and the one used by the widest variety of Londoners, particularly in the Inner boroughs. Buses are especially vital to working Londoners on low incomes and Shawcross’s concern for them has always impressed as a pure reflection of her Labour values.
Before becoming an AM in 2000, Shawcross was a councillor in Croydon from 1994, and led Labour to victory in the 1998 borough elections. She was instrumental in the building of Tramlink and, before becoming council leader, an effective chair of education. She was awarded a CBE in 2002 for her services to local government.
These are difficult times for transport bosses in the city, with rising pressures on the networks and budgets alike. As Mayor Khan’s deputy, Shawcross has delivered his transport strategy – one of the key mayoral policy documents – and been central to the taxing task of drawing up London’s five year transport business plan. She has also been involved with bringing plans for pedestrianisation in Oxford Street decisively closer fruition, which, if successful, might prove to be one of Khan’s biggest achievements. Her successor will be Heidi Alexander, currently MP for Lewisham East.
Shawcross says that after 18 years at the Greater London Authority she wants more time to enjoy with her husband and family. She’s been a true star. She’s earned it.