Optimistic thinking at City Hall?
The start of a new year should be a cause for optimism, planning and a fresh start. But is it the beginning of the most challenging period in Sadiq Khan’s tenure as Mayor of London?
As the 2020 Mayoral election moves on to the horizon, Sadiq has faced some significant issues. However, in this blog, we look at the last year and argue there are grounds for optimism.
Let’s start with some electoral facts. First, recent history shows London is becoming an increasingly Labour city, although the party performed below expectations last year. Second, Mayoral elections are personality votes and Sadiq will be the biggest name on the ballot. These points alone should give City Hall confidence.
Khan faces a number of issues. Most recent is the Crossrail delay and its impact on TfL finances. This will be a common theme for the Conservatives as they seek to portray the Mayor as irresponsible with public money and unable to deliver major projects. It also expected to have a significant (£600m) impact on passenger revenues. TfL now expects to balance its budget by 2022/3, a two year delay.
Crossrail is preparing to publish a project delivery schedule and has confirmed delays of up to 18 months are being modelled. Such a hiatus would take opening of the Elizabeth Line past the Mayoral election. Bad news for London and awful timing from a political perspective. The fallout from the delay is also likely to have an impact on the case for other public infrastructure projects. Especially Crossrail 2, which may face reinvigorated political skeptics.
Looking forward to 2020, the financial situation also poses an important question. Will any candidate ever be able to propose a fares freeze to Londoners without a government subsidy? It will be essential to keep TfL on track with its financial plan to avoid this becoming a major problem.
Alongside this, violent crime has risen with some very sad impacts. The Mayor has argued that government cuts have created great difficulties for policing and found support for this argument. Ministers and the Evening Standard have both been highly critical and called for more action at City Hall.
On affordable housing, he been successful. By securing £1.7bn additional funding in 2018, Khan extended a record deal for London to £4.8bn. During the same year, news of just over 12,500 affordable homes started met the GLA’s target agreed with the government. So, good progress? Yes. The risk, as ever, is that house building volumes can take a long time to ramp up through funding cycles. At the same time, Brexit is reducing appetite for building. The numbers around this will be contested until 2020 and the Mayor likely to continue his assertive negotiations with developers.
Finally, Brexit. The UK’s biggest political and economic issue. The Mayor is a leading campaigner for a softer Brexit and a second referendum. While this is contentious for many politicians due to the rift in the main parties, London voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, so he is on firmer ground (save for some outer boroughs such as Havering).
Grounds for optimism
So where does this leave Sadiq? The past few years have taught us to be wary of making predictions in such a volatile political environment. However, at present, Sadiq appears to be on a road which will return him to power.
The last poll of 2018 confirmed overwhelming support. YouGov research for Queen Mary University of London in December gave the Mayor 55% of voters’ support. Conservative challenger Shaun Bailey was second on 28%. A commanding lead, but with much that could happen between now and May 2020.
The Mayor is in a strong position to extend his tenure but these challenges, especially Crossrail, could prove problematic. Sadiq’s team will want to have the project under control by the election, and evidence of progress in all other areas to support his already strong position in the race.
By Francis Mallinson, Associate Director
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