When we lost our lease on our Westminster flat last year, we took a good, hard look at Central London and read between the lines: no families wanted.
My husband and I lived in Westminster for ten years. Both of our children were born there, our family was (and still is) active in two neighbourhood churches. Over the years I did the normal, everyday things neighbourhood mums do: I volunteered at numerous local playgroups, my neighbours and I helped campaign to retain funding for our local state nursery, my neighbours and I called a meeting to learn more about a proposed foot bridge into our community square.
I feel my family, like most families, made a positive contribution to our community, we shopped at local businesses and looked out for our neighbours and maintained strong relationships with our ward councillors and knew the local clergy. I even set up a web site where I could show off how amazingly family-friendly London, but Westminster in particular, is to live.
But shortly after my son was born in 2009, tax payers were told of the paradigm shift needed to keep the earth rotating: the government would have to shrink and we would have to go with fewer services.
I noticed the staff reductions at my kids' schools, class sizes were rising and any questioning of this was simply met with: "budget cuts, Labour spent it all". We never put up an argument; the cuts were just a matter of course. Parents seemed to just accept that schools would cut back, these were new times, this was new funding. Many of the lovely community and museum activities I enjoyed with my eldest child just weren't there for my second.
These are all trifling concerns compared to my friends and neighbours facing serious challenges from of draconian changes to their housing benefits (we might ask Westminster how many people ended up housed, at tremendous expense, in B and B's over the inability to pay the £14 a week for the bedroom tax). There were people in our church who were going to leave their jobs in Pimlico because they could no longer afford their council flats. These are people doing valuable work, too: caring for the elderly at night, working in our schools, working at the local shops, telephone engineers and more.
In the midst of all this unquestioned talk of cuts around Westminster, our rent started to rise. In 2007 we were paying £375 a week for a two bedroom flat - a huge portion of our annual income, but in return we had a short, inexpensive commute, great primary schools and world-class city services. After 2008, our wages stagnated, rents began to climb to the current rate of £450 - £500 minimum a week for a two bedroom and all the while services are threatened.
There was talk of closing Chelsea and Westminster's A and E (instead it's Charing Cross Hospital that will get the axe); despite our campaigning, Boris Johnston is closing our fire station.
For families, the most glaring example of council abdication of responsibility was the handing over of our primary schools over to the nepotistic, managerial brain-trust of Future Academies. Westminster, without any input from tax payers, handed over two local primary schools and then allowed Future to start its own school, Pimlico Primary.
Central councils don't want families like mine, they want the "international elite" a choice group who privately educate their kids, use private healthcare, and have no use for city services outside of rubbish collecting and police.
If the councils can push away concerned mothers nagging them about the need for fire stations and A&Es they will have a much easier time stripping the government down to nothing. With the "international elite" not living here, but occupying flats, they won't have to answer why the 27 year old head of a new primary school walked off the job or why Lord Nash's Millbank Academy has no head or deputy head on site safeguarding the children. The "international elite" will not protest footbridges into public squares or care about the siphoning off of school playgrounds to NHS contractors.
The "international elite" are particularly drawn to London. As far as I understand, the owner of a £2,000,000 flat in Westminster might pay £120 a month in council tax and a bit of ground rent each year, after that there are no other outgoings other than heat (no wonder the city can't afford any services). The overhead on that kind of residence in New York City would be a minimum of £3,000 per month if not more.
The central councils are sitting on a gold mine in London property and refuse to do anything to monetize it and instead focus on eliminating the normal services one expects of government. In my ten years as a renter in the UK, I only paid rent to a resident of the UK for one year - all the rest of my rent went overseas.
London, wave good-by to normal families who care passionately about you and give a nod to anonymous, super-rich people who don't vote, don't use the library, likely won't go to the local shops, don't use the NHS (and protest when you sell it off) and certainly would never would allow their children to attend a state school.