Comment: The next mayor should be demanding more for London

The campaign to be the next mayor of London has been boring. All four major political parties have selected the same candidates, and frankly none of them have a vision for London.

By Tim Leunig

For sure, Boris is fun and there can be no doubting Ken's 40 year commitment to London. Brian's one-hour bus ticket would be useful, and Jenny Jones is right that London could be a lot greener.

A real vision for London needs real powers for the mayor and assembly. It is crazy that an extension of bike lanes in London should be decided by the chancellor and announced in the Budget. London is a rich city and we should raise and spend our own money. The mayor and the boroughs need to have a stake in our economic future. We need the next mayor, in alliance with all the other candidates and all the parties in the Greater London authority to take Greg Clark, the minister for cities, at his word. He has said that if cities want more powers he will listen to them and try to respond positively.

The London mayor should ask for complete control over business rates. The government would cut the grants to London proportionately, and the mayor and assembly would get to decide what rates should be levied, and what should be done with the money raised. This would also give them a big incentive to support sensible economic development.

Nor should we expect the tube, or improvements to transport within London, to be paid for by anyone other than ourselves. We use it, and we should pay for it.

But the mayor should demand an end to London's subsidies for other transport users. It is very clear to any transport economist that London rail commuters are subsidising the much less heavily used parts of the network beyond London. The mayor should be saying "enough is enough". As the richest part of the country it is right that London should pay its share of taxes to central government. But creating extra hidden charges on Londoners is not right.

We also need a mayor to get London working. London is fantastically wealthy, but it also has a surprisingly high rate of worklessness. The mayor, not the government, should run our job centres, and should be banging heads together in our biggest institutions to get them to provide more work experience, more internships, and more starting positions for those who struggle to get their first step on the ladder. All the evidence is that work experience works, and an internship at simply pays travel expenses can really make a difference to people who are able to live at home.

We also need a mayor who is serious about ending the tragic and almost always avoidable deaths on our roads. Cycling is going up dramatically, but relationships between cyclists and drivers are awful. For sure, some cyclists are terrible, but drivers kill cyclists far more often than cyclists killed drivers. We need a mayor who remembers that at all times.

Finally, we need a mayor to bring London together. We need one who continues both Ken and Boris' good work with all the communities in London, but we also need one who wants to spread best practice from one part of London to another.

When I talk to local councillors I'm shocked at how little time they spend benchmarking themselves against their neighbours. I'm surprised at how little cooperation there is, and how little integration. A mayor should be informing and cajoling local councils in order that we all get the best services and the best value for money that we can.

Tim Leunig is chief economist for Centreforum.

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