Charles Wright: Will the Government of London heed business requests for TfL funding?
If Boris Johnson himself rejects the top employers’ arguments to protect the capital’s transport networks, it will show how dominant the “leveling” policy has become
There is little evidence to suggest that the government listened to Sadiq Khan throughout Transport for London’s Covid-induced cash crisis, and with the recent funding cliff rapidly approaching for the battered network, that doesn’t seem to be changing. But will the Conservatives, who still claim to be the Party of Business, listen to the capital’s employers?
Last week, leading business lobby group London First called on city bosses in an 11-hour plea for adequate TfL funding, arguing that “weakening the country’s most powerful economic engine would slow down the UK’s economic recovery”.
Her letter was specifically addressed to Chancellor Rishi Sunak and not to Minister of Transport Grant Shapps, presumably on the basis that the former city banker and hedge fund not only holds the wallets but also understands that with a net contribution to the Treasury £ 36 billion a year claims of London’s importance to the economy as a whole are more than just rhetoric.
City of London political leader Catherine McGuinness made a similar plea at the Center for London conference last week – London’s economic engine has not stalled yet, but has stalled and needs proper care, she said. The London Chamber of Commerce is also involved and is promoting a new all-party parliamentary group for “London as a Global City” to advocate for “supporting and investing in London’s continued success for the benefit and positioning of Global Britain”. .
It’s a welcome display of business power not seen since the abolition of the Greater London Council in 1986, when the capital was left without a citywide government or obvious tools to coordinate policy and lobby for investment. It was then that London First was born, bringing together major employers to give London businesses a national and international voice and advocate for the city when the prospects looked bleak.
The return of business groups on the subject underscores that London’s economic success and “the substantial and tangible benefits it brings to the UK as a whole” cannot be taken for granted. But is the warning heeded in the context of a “leveling” policy in which votes are apparently won by shutting down the capital?
Given the “leveling” agenda, London has struggled to find the most effective way to get its point across. Statistics – for example that London has the highest poverty rate in the country – fail, as Nick Bowes of the Center for London recently pointed out. And while it is generally accepted that the argument is stronger when it comes not from politicians alone, providing high-profile figures on the city’s contribution to the UK’s finances is likely to be reciprocated with a “That’s your damn GDP, not ours” A heckler from Newcastle told Europe expert Anand Menon in a 2016 debate on the macroeconomic impact of Brexit. In this context, London First has considered changing its name.
In the next few days it could be decided whether the “leveling” of politics – ironically spearheaded by a Prime Minister who, as London’s Mayor, told the government to “invest more in London or fall behind” – takes hold and puts the capital back into uncharted waters shows that his reported “shitty business” stance on Brexit concerns extends to the capital’s business lobby, even if it finds her voice.
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