It may be the greatest delay in rail history. When Crossrail opens in 2018, it will be more than 40 years since the name was first used, and 75 years since the groundbreaking idea of running mainline trains through central London tunnels was proposed in 1943.Crossrail is a magnificent feat of engineering that will increase the capital's rail capacity by 10%. It will bring investment across our city with new homes and new job opportunities from West to East. It has given 3,500 young Londoners a new career path via its Tunnelling Academy. But Crossrail's laggardly arrival has been a decades-long lesson in why central government is not the best machine to get vital infrastructure projects off the ground.
Crossrail was finally delivered mainly by Londoners for Londoners, with a democratically accountable Mayor at the helm and over 60% of its £14.8bn funding coming directly from Londoners and London's businesses. After Crossrail, it is clear that London's entrepreneurial citizens need to keep the initiative. With London's population set to hit 9m by 2020 and 10m by 2030, we must find our own ways to drive the timely investment our growing city needs.
One well-rehearsed option is giving London the chance to capture and re-invest some of its own tax yield. London gets an embarrassing 66% of its income as a handout from central government, compared to New York's 30.9% and Tokyo's 7.7%. Our rivals rely on a decentralised approach that is both more efficient and more accountable. Yet for all the promise of this reform, it seems London is doomed to wait almost as long for it as it did for Crossrail.
In the meantime, we need fresh options that we can explore without waiting on government permission. For instance, making better use of the recent explosion in crowdfunding. This technique has deep roots: the Great Exhibition of 1851 was financed by public subscription, via committees set up across the nation. Today's technology allows more ways to aggregate individual commitments into transformative projects than ever before.I am a passionate lender on Kiva, a microfinance website where ordinary people come together to lend money to entrepreneurs in poorer countries, and am currently in talks to develop a similar website to lend to entrepreneurs in some of London's poorer communities.
By directing private capital into areas that would otherwise be financially excluded, or worst still, financially exploited, growth and development is felt at the source without no or few government officials in sight.
Already, we have seen similar platforms spring up such as Kickstarter or Lending Circle financing projects directly from lender to borrower with negotiated interest rates, shares in businesses and in some cases just the good feeling that comes with lending someone some money that will enable them to make a dream into a reality. Of course, like any other area of financial activity crowdfunding will also attract those who seek to exploit the vulnerable, but if done correctly it could allow the financially-excluded to create successful businesses and in turn, has the potential to turn areas of deprivation into areas of aspiration.
To see a better way to build London's future, we also need to look at all the places in our great city where people are embracing community-driven solutions, such as Regenerate's The Feel Good Bakery in Roehampton turning former gang members and drug dealers into entrepreneurs or as the T-shirt says "dope dealers to hope dealers" or the New Addington Jobs Club which has found jobs for more than 100 local people.
They prefer community-led action rather than, like some of our big infrastructure projects, waiting patiently on top of someone's desk to be processed and granted funding.
Across London, hubs of enterprise thrive by exploring different methods of funding. It is time City Hall and London's boroughs tapped the same spirit of enterprise. From Community Investment Funds to crowdfunding, new options can help us start building the future we need, rather than waiting on Whitehall. London is a city of entrepreneurs. We should lead the way in entrepreneurial funding.Suggest a correction