Ten proposals for the mayor
by Ben Rogers
The mayoral campaign has been almost exclusively focused on immediate ‘bread and butter’ issues – fares cuts and police numbers, council tax rises and tax breaks - with little attention paid to longer term challenges facing London and ways of addressing them. Of course bread and butter issues are important – particularly in these difficult economic times – but London also needs to think strategically. We hope the ideas we put forward here help address that need.
Our proposals are all broadly cost-neutral and could be introduced without significant increased spending. They are new ideas that are yet to be widely proposed. They are practical and, taken together, would make a significant contribution to tackling London’s challenges. Most importantly, they are broadly devolutionary in keeping with our belief that Parliament should continue to devolve more responsibility to the GLA and downwards to local government.
PROPOSAL #1: EMPLOYERS LEVY TO FUND INVESTMENT IN TRANSPORT
Replace current business rates with a London employer’s levy, and use the fund to pay for investment in transport. Our proposal would give employers more of a say in priorities for London’s transport system. The money currently raised through business rates is more or less the same as the amount government invests in London transport. Our guess is that, given the chance, London’s employers would choose to pay more, rather than less, for a better transport infrastructure.
PROPOSAL #2: POP-UP PARISHES
Allow communities to set up temporary and super-local “Pop-Up Parishes” where the majority of the community vote in favour. Pop-Up Parishes would have a limited lifespan and be focused on specific community improvements. They would have the power to raise a modest mandatory levy - a light-touch, flexible way of revitalising local neighbourhood life.
PROPOSAL #3: GIVE THE MAYOR CONTROL OF JOBCENTREPLUS
Give the mayor control of Jobcentre Plus and the Work Programme. For twenty years London has had lower employment than the country as a whole. One in three working age Londoners are out of work. A more London-focused welfare to work programme would allow the city to create a system better suited to its conditions, and focus accountablity for solving London’s unemployment problem on the mayor.
PROPOSAL #4: TIGHTEN LONDON’S FOREIGN PROPERTY TAX LOOPHOLES
Reform the tax system to ensure that people who enjoy the benefits of owning property in London make a fair contribution to the city. As things stand currently, a series of loopholes allow foreign property owners to avoid stamp duty and other taxes. We should amend our regressive council tax system to mean that by international standards, wealthy foreign property owners contribute more by way of taxes.
PROPOSAL #5: GIVE CYCLISTS MORE FREEDOMS ON LONDON’S ROADS
Treat cyclists less like motorists and more like pedestrians. First, allow cyclists to turn left at red traffic lights, while recognising that pedestrians have right of way. Second, introduce the principle that cyclists can go against the traffic in one-way streets unless they are explicitly prohibited from doing so. Take a more fundamental look at the Highway Code for cyclists, and give cyclists many of the same rights and privileges currently accorded to pedestrians. These reforms are in keeping with London government’s support for cycle paths and ‘shared space’ designs, and ultimately make cycling safer.
PROPOSAL #6: CREATE A LONDON SCHOOLS COMMISSIONER FOR SCHOOLS
Appoint a London Commissioner for Schools and Young People to sit alongside the existing Transport, and Policing and Crime Commissioners. This would give London the strong middle tier it needs to be able to support and challenge all schools, manage capital investment, design and police admissions policy, oversee teacher recruitment and development, and promote cross-cutting initiatives and programmes. The London Assembly should be responsible for scrutinsing the performance of London schools.
PROPOSAL #7: INTRODUCE AN OYSTER CARD FOR LONDON’S ROADS
Introduce pay-as-you-go congestion charging to reduce congestion on London’s roads. The mayor to refund to all car owners the cost of their annual vehicle tax, while introducing road pricing at the same time, paid for via the Oyster Card. Those that make little use of their cars could find themselves better off at the end of the year than they are currently. Similarly, discounts could be offered on less polluting, greener vehicles. Integrating congestion charging with the Oyster Card, would allow people to make a direct calculation as to the costs and benefits of using the car versus using public transport.
PROPOSAL #8: GIVE THE MAYOR FULL POWER OVER LONDON’S POLICE
Split the Met’s national responsibilities from its national ones, such as anti-terrorism. Retain a purely focused London police force for which the mayor would be solely responsible. Build on the creation of SOCA, in effect an emergent national police force, to handle the national duties the Met currently covers. The would complete the partial devolution of control of the Met to the mayor and ultimately mean London’s police service being run more directly in the interests of Londoners.
Undertake a fundamental review of cab and taxi services in London. Though London black cabs are internationally recognised icon, and a byword for reliability, the whole cab sector is increasingly outdated. Explore questions including: Do we need the Knowledge in the age of the SatNav? Can technology enable more cab-sharing? Is the London cab fleet green enough? Would there be gains in integrating cab services with public transport through the Oyster Card?
PROPOSAL #10: ESTABLISH YOUTH COURTS
Involve young people more directly in the running of the criminal justice system, through creating courts run by young people. These are common in the US and have proved effective both at cutting recidivism and engaging young people in the justice system and increasing confidence in it. As last summer’s riots reminded us, too many young Londoners fall into crime or fall victim of it. We need youth courts here too.