Blog Post

October’s policy roundup: Levelling up, the Budget and ULEZ expansion

October has been jampacked with political chatter and policy announcements. From the Conservative Party Conference to the Budget and Spending Review, the Net Zero Strategy to the expansion of the ULEZ, our Chief Executive Nick Bowes reflects on a political calendar that is well and truly back to life.

The Government’s balancing act

Neil O’Brien wrote earlier this month that levelling up is “not about North vs. South or city vs. town”. But if that means fiscal spending, then the Chancellor’s statement to Parliament yesterday gives the capital little cause for hope; London received the smallest pot of money from the Levelling Up Fund in England – a paltry reflection of the deep levelling up challenges within the city. As I’ve long argued, taking London’s continued success for granted is a gamble given how hard the city’s economy has been hit by the pandemic.

With rumours flying that the Levelling Up White Paper will be published soon, we’re working to inform the government’s strategy. Our new research project on levelling up aims to demonstrate the scale of the challenges within London and the importance of the capital to the UK’s economy.

To kickstart the project, we asked Londoners what they think of levelling up, and what it means for London. The polling, undertaken by Savanta, found that most Londoners would support the government’s levelling up agenda if it meant that the rest of the country had the chance to improve their quality of life. But there is still confusion about what levelling up really means, who it would benefit, and what it could mean for Londoners, and for spending and investment in the capital.

Now is the time for climate action

Given it’s just a matter of days before world leaders gather in Glasgow for COP26, you might expect the government to be putting forward policies to help us transition to a net-zero economy. Instead, the Chancellor trumpeted a cut to domestic flight duty and cancelled increases in fuel duty.

This regressive move was in stark contrast to the action taken earlier this week by the Mayor of London to expand the Ultra Low Emission Zone. City governments around the world will be watching closely to see how successful it is at cutting car use and cleaning up the capital’s air. The expanded ULEZ is the most ambitious scheme of its kind, but it also has its limitations. Rumours had been swirling that the Treasury is starting to consider how it might replace lost revenue from fuel duty, perhaps in the form of a nationwide road pricing scheme. We think the Mayor must move first to introduce a pay-per-mile system in London before Whitehall presses ahead and London loses out on the power to shape the scheme so it works for London and the revenue instead goes to the Treasury.

The government also set out its plans for the country to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Just days before London Councils published their own Retrofit Action Plan which called on the government to increase the borough’s resources for upgrading London’s housing stock.

What it really takes to deliver “London-style transport”

The Chancellor’s Budget also announced new funding for transport outside of London with commitments to “London-style transport” settlements. But ‘London-style’ risks becoming code for slashed services and cancelled investment unless Transport for London gets the long-term sustainable funding deal it needs.

On the other hand, it’s brilliant news for Londoners and the city’s night-time economy, that two of the Night Tube lines will be returning later in November. Not only will this give many Londoners the confidence they need to feel safe travelling for work and leisure in the early hours, but it will also be a big boost to businesses as Christmas approaches. But the truth is that the Pret counter queue shows that the West End and City are still lagging behind the rest of the UK…

And finally…

My thoughts are with the families, friends and constituents of two MPs from London and the South East who died this month – James Brokenshire MP and Sir David Amess MP. The political world is still in shock over David’s death, and we must act urgently to protect our democracy and ensure the safety of our elected representatives.

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