Sadiq Khan faces conflicting policy priorities as he takes up the role of Mayor for London.
It’s official: Sadiq Khan is the new Mayor of London, having set the pace from the start of the race and stayed in the lead throughout. He’s not as well-known as either of his predecessors, but in a role like the Mayor of London he has a huge opportunity to make his mark, not least because he’s taking office at a challenging time. Housing pressures, rising costs of living, the future funding of transport and headwinds in the global economy will all challenge London’s position as a world-class city for residents and businesses. Khan will face many competing pressures and some goals may be enormously difficult to achieve at the same time. So what are the biggest decisions he faces?
Housing has been the big theme of this election, with Khan citing it as his top priority. Yet while his determination to tackle London’s housing crisis is clear, urgent work is needed to translate his different ambitions into one clear plan of action. For example, Khan has pledged to increase house building to 80,000 per year – a massive increase on current build rates, with just 30k constructed in 2014/15. But he has also pledged to increase the amount of affordable housing required from developments to 50 per cent, and ruled out encouraging new building on green belt and greenfield sites within London, both of which are likely to constrain housebuilding, not increase it. As plans are developed, Khan is likely to face a tough political choice – does he focus on boosting supply generally in the hope of reining in average house prices for all Londoners, or does he instead prioritise increasing the share of subsidised housing for the least well off? It will be very difficult to achieve both.
With demand for transport services across London continuing to rise, improving and extending London’s creaking infrastructure is another big priority for the new mayor. Khan will need to consider how best to ensure travel is affordable while still investing in maintaining and upgrading the network, including securing Crossrail 2 and extending the Overground. He is best-known for his affordability commitments and his pledge to freeze Transport for London fares for four years and introduce a one-hour bus ‘Hopper’ ticket. Both will, he argues, be paid for by making TfL more efficient and exploring new revenue-raising opportunities. Yet with more cuts to Transport for London’s budget to come, the big question he and his team will need to answer is how they can deliver the savings and additional revenue required to freeze fares, and what reduced revenue will mean for London’s ability to keep its transport system moving and improving.
Even before announcing his candidacy, Khan was calling for the London mayor to have greater devolved powers, particularly over crime, school standards, planning and infrastructure. Representing a city regarded by many as already being too successful, and being a member of the Opposition party, Khan will need to decide how best to make the most of his networks and the influence that comes with the role of Mayor to ensure that London gets the best possible deal. Tactics will be all important and decisions are likely to be made on a case-by-case basis about whether confrontation or partnership are the best ways to encourage the Government to make policy decisions that work for London. Continuing to work alongside other major cities (such as the Core Cities) to make a strong case to the Government about the importance of devolution is likely to be important whichever approach is used. Making progress on devolution, funding and adapting national policy decisions to London circumstances will be critical to the success or otherwise of the Mayoralty.
Four years is not long to make the kind of impact that Khan has talked about – a London for all Londoners – and he faces some tough choices ahead. But as our forthcoming briefing 10 lessons for the new Mayor of London will show, in a role with this kind of profile and influence, there is a great deal that can be done to make a big difference to an economy that doesn’t just matter to its residents and workers, but also to the UK economy as a whole.
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