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December’s policy roundup: Farewell City Hall, hello Plan B

Our Chief Executive Nick Bowes summarises the key stories in the final month of a rollercoaster year for London and Londoners.

Omicron and Plan B

Just five months after the government removed all coronavirus restrictions in England, December saw the reintroduction of face coverings in public spaces and guidance to work from home. Even before the government advice changed to ‘work from home if you can’, passenger numbers on the tube and bus had begun to decline. Together with the spread of the new variant, this advice is sure to have a further knock-on effect on central London’s restaurants, pubs, shops and theatres at a crucial time. While the pandemic continues to be far from over, the government must reinstate emergency financial support for businesses and workers who have been hard hit, to avoid Omicron threatening both Londoners’ health and their livelihoods.

White smoke on a funding deal for Transport for London?

Last week’s extension to the current financial agreement between Transport for London and the government expires tomorrow. TfL has been plagued with uncertainty during these negotiation periods over the last two years. They didn’t even receive official confirmation that the current deal had been extended until Monday. The government needs to give our world class transport authority certainty. New analysis by City Hall this week warned of the stark economic impact of “no deal” – deteriorating infrastructure and worsening services – alongside lost jobs across the country. It’s critical that the government and the Mayor come to an agreement as soon as possible to avoid this scenario. This partly relies on the Treasury playing ball – funding London’s transport system is not ‘just’ money for buses, tubes and trains, but an investment in the wider economic benefits public transport brings to the capital and the country. We co-signed a letter with 80 other organisations, including London First, London Travel Watch and Campaign for Better Transport, earlier this month calling on the Chancellor to agree a sustainable deal that lasts until at least April 2023.

In other (good) transport news, the Ultra Low Emission Zone expansion – which has now been in place for over a month – has cut ‘dirty’ vehicles by over a third.

Levelling up pushed back

No policy wonk will be surprised to hear that the Levelling Up White Paper has now been pushed back to January. A recent leak suggested a wide range of proposals – from the possible scrapping of Local Enterprise Partnerships to serious changes to local government. However, the White Paper mustn’t be a distraction from meaningful devolution. Handing over proper powers is crucial to the success of levelling up. And any ambitions for devolution mustn’t be framed as just aspiring to what London already has: London itself needs way more control over its own affairs. It was good to see the Northern Powerhouse Partnership’s intervention on why Whitehall has to let places make their own choices and not pit London against the North. And I was also pleased to chair a discussion at The London Conference last month on improving London’s relationship with the nation. You can catch up on the discussion here.

And finally…

This month we also welcomed London’s newest MP Louie French following his success in the Old Bexley and Sidcup by-election. And we said goodbye to the building that has housed the Mayor of London and the London Assembly for two decades, ahead of moving to a new location in the Royal Docks next year. Many consider it an iconic building, though usually not those who have actually worked there. It was a major error that the government of the time didn’t give the London mayoralty a permanent home, but the move could open up a new destination in East London – something we plan to explore at a conference in the spring.

Nick Bowes is Chief Executive of Centre for London. Follow him on Twitter. Read more from him here.