Monday, 27 October 2008

Eight key policy points in London to meet the recession - by Ken Livingstone

The focus of Socialist Economic Bulletin is national and international trends. It points out that in dealing with a recession two tasks are crucial.
  • First, to keep up the demand side of consumption by maintaining incomes - particularly of the average and worst off sections of the population, by maintaining government spending on areas such as health and education, and using any favourable international trends.
  • Second to keep up investment - which, in a recession, can frequently only be carried out by state intervention into the economy.
But the same approach is also required locally. The following programme has been published on Dave Hill's London Blog in the Guardian by Ken Livingstone on policy steps that should have been taken by the Mayor in London. Naturally a Mayor does not have the most powerful instruments of policy in their hands - such as interest rates, the ability to run budget deficits, and the right to nationalise. Nevertheless, with weaker policy instruments, the Mayor can apply the same principles, as shown in this programme.
Its elements include:
  • To keep up consumption of the ordinary fare paying public by eliminating unnecessary fare increases and by increasing international demand through boosting tourism - which in London is one of its most important important industries.
  • To keep up investment through pushing ahead with the big investment programmes won during the two previous Mayoral terms (the £16 billion cross London new underground railway Crossrail, the Olympic Games, the new powers in housing development won by the Mayor), putting the focus in the Olympics back on economic regeneration, stopping the de facto run down of economic regeneration programme by the London Development Agency, and strengthening London's relations with India and China - economies whose relative weight will be strengthened by the financial crisis and are important future sources of foreign investment into London.
SEB publishes this as an example of what should be done in one city to fit in with a proper recovery programme nationally. It welcomes, and will draw attention, to similar proposals for other parts of the country.
* * *
London has entered its first recession for fifteen years. Londoners know the value of their house is falling, their spending is squeezed, and an increasing number are worried about their job security. In this situation the Mayor of London should put forward clear policies which, in areas where he has power, can best help London meet the effects of this recession. I have set out here eight key measures that should be immediately introduced by a Mayor of London. All flow from a clear choice of priorities – that the Mayor must protect the economic development of London, promote social justice and therefore help those who are being most hit by this crisis, and protect the environment.

1. Reverse the cuts in Visit London's budget and allocate a £5 million a year boost in the next two years to promote London's visitor economy
In a recession London's £15 billion a year visitor and tourism economy is going to be hit. But the decline in the pound's exchange rate means that it is going to be more possible to attract tourists to London - boosting restaurants, theatres and many other London visitor attractions. Experience shows the effectiveness of tourism-marketing campaigns.
Exactly the wrong course is now being taken through severely cutting the budget of Visit London, London's tourism agency and other budgets for the promotion of London.
The cuts already made must be reversed and for the next two years, the likely length of the recession, a temporary extra grant of £5 million a year should be given to Visit London for marketing the city. This will help aid London's hard pressed visitor economy and pay for itself many times over.

2. Abandon the damaging new restrictive planning regime in London
It is going to be difficult to keep up investment in London during the recession. Yet it is vital that as much private sector construction as possible goes ahead. The new restrictive planning regime emerging from City Hall, based on the model favoured by Westminster City Council under Sir Simon Milton, should be reversed. West End retailers and responsible developers should be told they will get strong support for new development. A planning regime must be introduced in the West End and along the route of Crossrail to ensure that London gets the most from the economic opportunities it offers.

3. Speed up the house building programme and support the call for nationalisation of the necessary parts of the construction industry to carry out a large scale government house building programme
The number of new homes being built – including affordable homes – has very steeply and rapidly declined. In such circumstances the public sector must take a more active role. The Mayor should use all the new powers acquired for housing construction and join the call of Jon Cruddas and other MPs that, if necessary, parts of the construction industry should be nationalised to allow a large scale programme of affordable homes to be undertaken.
The policy that 50 per cent of new housing should be affordable housing should be reintroduced - in a recession it will be housing for those on ordinary incomes and the low paid that will be scrapped by developers. The abandonment of the 50 per cent affordable housing policy will therefore be deeply damaging to Londoners. Policies to ensure a strong supply of rented affordable accommodation must be retained.

4. Press on with the big infrastructure projects and reorganize City Hall's business and transport functions
Any opportunity for London to come through this economic crisis in the best shape possible is in significant part due to the big spending on infrastructure projects that were won during the last two Mayoral terms, such as the Olympics, Crossrail and the Mayor's new housing powers. These investment programmes act counter-cyclically to maintain economic activity and generate tens of thousands of jobs. This contrasts with the Tories' "small government" approach which would never have secured Crossrail. The attempt by discredited monetarists to advise the government against this approach should be roundly rejected by the Mayor and the major investment projects should be defended.
Chaos in the new administration is getting in the way of those who can actually run things in London. The professionalism of many managers in London government, whose skills are vital in a downturn, does not allow them to speak out publicly but the chaos that reigns in the Mayoralty is well-known to close observers of City Hall. It is of particular concern that in two key areas during a recsession – transport and business – the mayor's office has put forward no proposals for how to deal with the economic situation. This is bad for London. The mayor needs to reorganise how his office is dealing with transport and business as a matter of urgency.

5. Put the focus of the Olympics back on economic development
The most important reason for seeking to win the Olympic Games was to carry out large scale economic development in east London. This perspective has been eroded by the new administration whose actions have effectively counterposed this objective to a pure emphasis on sport. Even more so in a recession the focus in the Olympics must be put back onto large scale economic regeneration and marketing London internationally - and London government must conduct itself accordingly.

6. Reverse the cut backs in regeneration spending by the LDA and halt the risk to its government funding
The London Development Agency should not be funneling its funds into projects that are already being financed by the boroughs, allowing them to cut their own spending. This means that economic regeneration funding in London will fall by several hundred million pounds a year – exactly the reverse of what is required in a recession. Furthermore this misuse of government funding by the LDA, not using the money for its intended purposes of expanding regeneration spending, threatens to lead to the LDA's funds being severely reduced by the government in the medium term. This must stop and LDA funds must be used for their proper purpose of expanding economic regeneration in London.

7. Strengthen London's presence in the key new emerging markets
The weight of the rapidly growing emerging market economies, above all India and China, is going to increase sharply in this recession and they will emerge from it fastest. London must strengthen the relations it has established with these economies and the Mayor's proposal to cut London's presence in them by scaling back London's offices there must be abandoned.

8. January's above-inflation fares increase can and should be scrapped by returning to taxing polluters
Fares policy on the buses and underground has to be re-prioritised to help ordinary Londoners instead of the Mayor's policy of protecting drivers of gas guzzlers. The cancellation of the £25-a-day CO2 congestion charge on the most gas guzzling cars should be reversed – raising up to £50 million a year. The 'oil for expertise' deal with Venezuela must be reintroduced – gaining London over £20 million a year at current exchange rates.
These measures together will raise over £60 million a year and allow the proposed above inflation fare increase in January to be scrapped, and single bus fares kept down to 90p instead of being raised to £1.
The further new wasteful transport proposals should similarly be abandoned. The plan to squander £13 million a year by replacing bendy buses on routes 38, 507 and 521 with ordinary single and double-deckers should be stopped. The costings for these routes show that the pledge to replace all four hundred bendy buses in London would cost Londoners £60 million a year even with existing types of buses, and this should be abandoned. Even worse, the proposal to introduce a 'new Routemaster', with open platforms and conductors has been shown by independent transport consultants to cost over £100 million a year and should be scrapped.
Further financial costs will be imposed on ordinary fare-paying Londoners if the Western Extension of the congestion charging zone is abolished. TfL have stated that abolition would lose London's transport system around £70 million a year. Even the Evening Standard, which calls for the abolition of the Western Extension, and underestimates the losses from abolition, admits it will lose £14 million a year. The Western Extension of the congestion charging zone must stay not only to reduce congestion but to raise revenue to keep fares down.
These measures will save Londoners over £60 million a year in the short term and will eventually save Londoners around £200 million a year compared to the implementation of Boris Johnson's transport plans. This will permit not only the abandonment of January's above-inflation fare increase but allow fares to be held down by the maximum amount in the coming years.
In a recession far more than economic measures are required. Experience shows that there will be a tendency for crime, or the threat of crime, to increase. The threat of racist attacks will increase, as will the danger of domestic violence against women. The planned reductions in real police spending must therefore be stopped and the cuts in the programmes against racism, and against domestic violence and other threats to women, must be reversed. Measures of environmental protection must continue. But the eight points above are vital to any programme to tackle the effects of the recession in London and they should be implemented at once."


Yourspace said...

On the 15th of October the PES organized a Prime Ministers’ meeting, prior to the EU Summit.

Yourspace met Sergei Stanishev, Prime Minister of Bulgaria, Wouter Bos, Minister of Finances and deputy Prime Minister of the Netherlands, and Alfred Gusenbauer, Austrian Chancellor, and recorded their comments on the current financial crisis – what is behind it and how can socialists and social democrats tackle the crisis.

Check the videos out and share your opinion on Yourspace.

votedforken said...

Boris Johnson has released a statement responding to the economic situation after months of doing nothing except defending the bankers (and telling us fares are going to rise). The problem is that it's only announcing that he will be announcing something before Christmas!

Unfortunately his claim to be looking into ways to promote London abroad is undermined by his own cuts to this very activity.

Bemused Economist said...

Just on Johnson's performance in office: by cancelling the Venezuelan oil deal and the planned congestion charging of gas guzzlers, he is costing London millions.

The working class must pay for his inept and reactionary nonsense. Tory economics in action!