Labour lost the last election because our leadership was not seen as credible and we were not trusted on the economy. The first test as to whether we have learnt those lessons will come next May in London where we have a realistic chance, but absolutely no guarantee, of taking a Tory-held seat and winning back the mayor of London.
London is the economic powerhouse of the United Kingdom and yet too many in London still worry about making ends meet and whether their family will be able to get decent jobs and afford good homes in the capital. Labour needs to offer both a clear vision for how to generate future growth in the capital and how that extra wealth will benefit all Londoners.
Central to London’s economic strength is our status as a global city, but such is the competition we cannot afford to stand still. That is why I support the expansion of Heathrow. I want London to benefit from the 40,000 jobs, 10,000 apprenticeships and the boost to business a third runway offers. There are real environmental issues to handle, but as the Davies commission made clear, all of these challenges can be dealt with properly and a third runway still built.
Financial services remains crucial to London’s global status too. And that is why I am at a loss as to why Boris Johnson has been so silent on the possible departure of HSBC and JP Morgan to Hong Kong and Luxembourg. If both leave – the damage to London will be considerable.
For too long the City and the rest of us have co-existed uneasily. Outrage at the City’s excesses is hardly unreasonable but it is no longer enough for Labour in London. A new relationship is needed. It is in London’s interest for the City to become the most trusted financial centre to do business. Crucial to such a reputation will be how the City is seen by its neighbours in London and the rest of the country. A taskforce on rebuilding such trust is needed with more transparency about the contribution financial services makes to, for example, building more homes, getting small businesses up and running and new low carbon solutions developed. The City will continue to need tough love in the short term which is one reason why the mayor should sit on the Prudential Regulation Authority.
If financial services remains the bedrock of London’s economy, it is the technology sector that is emerging as the new crucial source of its future wealth. It is, however, remarkable that London still lacks the basic technology infrastructure – there are large swaths of the capital in which superfast fibre broadband is available to neither residents nor business. Johnson has been much too tolerant of Ofcom and particularly British Telecom’s oh so slow rollout of a service that will soon be as vital as electricity.
I would establish formal links and engagement programmes with the Silicon Valley mayors of both San Francisco and San Jose, both to facilitate the exchange of ideas and people and to undertake joint policy initiatives on how best to support technology companies. This would both encourage Silicon Valley-based companies to choose London as the base for their European expansion and to help our own homegrown start-ups establish invaluable contacts and know-how over there.
Working with Tech City, I would also establish a mayoral technology investment fund, designed to help London’s emerging tech businesses take the next step in their development, by providing the investment which they need to expand and succeed. With an initial budget of £10m, the fund would provide investments of between £10,000 and £100,000 to businesses who can demonstrate a sustainable business model. I would appoint a deputy mayor for technology and Innovation to spearhead the crusade for London to be the technology capital of Europe.
It is not just technology start-ups that need support. Too many of London’s would-be small businesses struggle to get the cash to expand. I want to use half of the revenue from a potential hotel occupancy tax – £25m – to fund a small business bank to help the next generation of London’s businesses. The London Small Business Centre and Greater London Enterprise are two of the business support centres doing an important job in nurturing and encouraging business from basic idea to start-ups and beyond. They have a proven track record of helping London’s brightest turn their ideas into real businesses generating wealth and creating jobs, and we need to give them the finance to do even more.
I want everyone to benefit from the wealth created in London. That is why I support a cut in fares of 10 per cent on day one of my mayoral term. It is why too I support London’s right to set a genuine London living wage that truly reflects the costs of living here and why I want to use, for example, Transport for London land to build more co-op and social housing so every Londoner can afford a decent home. It is why as well I want London to be able to control more of the wealth we generate to tackle our city’s challenges.
We need both a credible economic agenda for London and a serious and ambitious plan to ensure all Londoners benefit from the wealth our city creates. I am the only London mayoral candidate who has both.
Gareth Thomas MP is member of parliament for Harrow West
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