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It Might Be Unpopular Right Now But #LondonIsOpen

28/04/2017 11:58

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I recently re-read the Metropolitan Revolution, which is essential for anyone with an interest in urban governance.

First released in 2013 - a much simpler time before the shocks of Brexit or Trump - its authors described how power was shifting away from central government, towards cities and major metropolitan areas.

Devolution and elected Mayors are now part of mainstream UK political discourse, but although our cities have got bigger and more powerful, we need to consider how they are seen by those living and working outside of them.

Fast-forward to March 2017 and the recent publication of the London Finance Commission report highlights the need for the capital to have more control of its tax powers if it is to keep pace with its global competitors.

I agree with the sentiment, but, as someone that represents London businesses both at the GLA and locally in Camden and Euston, I know that the political weather doesn't favour the capital.

To some, 'Brexit and Trump' might have been freak occurrences, fashion or some sort of post-industrial 'white-lash'.

But as I see it they exposed a tension between the centre of power and the wider population; the capital and the regions; the liberal metropolitan elite and the 'real' lives of people living outside of the M25 or 'the District'.

As one of the capital's Business Improvement District leaders I am often lobbying on major infrastructure projects. I am very conscious that these are great opportunities for people living and working in London, but it can be less apparent how they improve life and work for those beyond the South East.

There may be space for London to reframe itself to appear less 'other'; particularly if transport projects like Thameslink and Crossrail were more effectively framed as part of the national - rather than London - transport network.

Looking forward, and when it comes to making the case for Crossrail 2, the Government needs to think about how to 'sell it' beyond the South East.

In my view, we often focus too often on Londoners, when we really need to do more to engage with its day visitors, holiday makers and travelling workers.

To do this it should start talking less about how it will lift house prices in Hertfordshire and more about the plan to link-up shopping hotspots like the King's Road and Tottenham Court Road, with more space on carriages throughout the weekend.

The 'ownership' of London, its politics and its businesses, in the post-Brexit landscape is now a key question.

We need to move towards the notion of a shared capital that works for all of the UK, rather than Londoners and commuters from the Home Counties.

All this feels like a long way from the ideas about self-governance in the Metropolitan Revolution, but the brakes our nation state puts on its capital could have profound effects on the UK as a whole.

If we are going to better empower metropolitan areas, we need to consider how a thriving London supports the growth of other regions.

#LondonIsOpen is typically thought of as a message aimed at the international community to drive global commerce. We need to remind ourselves that it is also open to the whole of the UK.

A challenge that we must overcome is that London, unlike its major competitor cities, has so little control over itself, that without central government cooperation none of what the Mayor, or the good burghers behind the London Finance Commission want to achieve, will be possible.

In the current climate, Government is deaf to claims that this or that will harm London. Despite a very positive Spring Budget from a devolution perspective, showing favouritism to the capital is politically unpopular and not something it wants to be seen doing.

However it is worth remembering that the capital generates approximately 30% of the UK's 'economy taxes' and is a net importer of approximately £126bn worth of goods and services from the rest of the UK.

The capital and its leaders in Parliament, the GLA and across business need to work hard to rebuild London's reputation. They must show that #LondonIsOpen to the many and not the few by demonstrating how investment improves the nation's capital.

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