London can do better: a review of Our London by Sadiq Khan

The shadow London minister's book sets out the policies required to prevent the capital becoming an ever-more divided city.

London is one of the greatest cities on earth. The London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games showed London at its best. The Games were, for many Londoners, the proudest moment in recent British history. London is a diverse, dynamic and youthful city, with a vibrant community and an impressive arts and cultural scene.

But like many large cities worldwide, London has its share of problems – overcrowding, child poverty, unemployment and homelessness – to name a few. Poverty and inequality are growing. The jobless rate in my constituency, Bethnal Green and Bow, remains among the highest in the country, and many are struggling to make ends meet. The cost of living crisis is leaving many Londoners behind and our booming population is putting unprecedented strain on our transport and infrastructure.

It will take bold and decisive action to tackle these problems to build a better city over the next decade. In his new book, Our London, published by the Fabian Society, Labour’s shadow London minister, Sadiq Khan MP, sets out ambitious and exciting ideas for how Labour can make the capital a better city for Londoners.

It’s encouraging to read about innovative ideas for London’s future. Our mayoral system means that elections disappointingly look more like a beauty pageant than a battle of competing visions for our city. With consecutive elections for London councils, Westminster and the mayoralty over the next three years, Labour must ensure this does not happen again. 

Sadiq has brought together leading experts including Andrew Adonis on transport, Doreen Lawrence on equality, Jenny Jones on the environment and Tony Travers on the powers of London Government to get to the heart of the major challenges that London faces. It is refreshing to see a leading politician encouraging debate on a crucial issue that affects the lives of some eight million Londoners.

This book contains many interesting ideas. A London minimum wage to match our higher cost of living; free school meals for all children; more powers and financial freedom devolved from Whitehall to City Hall and Town Halls; restarting the'‘London Challenge' to make all our schools outstanding (something which along with exceptional leadership by teachers saw record improvement of schools in my borough over the past decade); strategic planning for the NHS across London; and a new infrastructure programme to build more roads, bridges, tunnels and train lines.

I am delighted that in his foreword for the book, Ed Miliband says that Labour will consider these ideas as we plan our manifesto for 2015; if even just a few of these ideas are picked up, it could vastly improve the lives of millions of Londoners.

As an MP for a London constituency which has high levels of inequality and deprivation, Sadiq’s chapter in which he outlines our plans to tackle London’s housing crisis is particularly striking.  Week in week out, I meet people who have to live at home well into their thirties and even forties. Overcrowding occurs at a distressing level. Buying a house in London is increasingly an unaffordable dream for all but the wealthiest. Sadiq’s plans to make renting more affordable and secure and improve standards in the rented sector could radically change lives in my constituency and would put ‘affordable housing’ back into the reach of ordinary Londoners.

Our London is a must read for everyone concerned about our capital’s future. It shows that Labour is most powerful when encouraging debate rather than closing it down. It shows that we can achieve more change when working together. It shows that we can be ambitious for the scale of change we want to achieve, even during a time of tightened finances. I hope that this book does kick-start a conversation about the future of our city. London can and must do better than it is and we must all work to ensure it doesn't become a divided city that squeezes out most people from the city apart from the wealthy. 

Our London is edited by Sadiq Khan and published by the Fabian Society. You can download a copy here.

The river Thames seen from Tower Bridge at night, with the Shard skyscraper on the left and the City of London on the right. Photograph: Getty Images.

Rushanara Ali is Labour MP for Bethnal Green and Bow and shadow international development minister.

Photo: Getty Images
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The future of policing is still at risk even after George Osborne's U-Turn

The police have avoided the worst, but crime is changing and they cannot stand still. 

We will have to wait for the unofficial briefings and the ministerial memoirs to understand what role the tragic events in Paris had on the Chancellor’s decision to sustain the police budget in cash terms and increase it overall by the end of the parliament.  Higher projected tax revenues gave the Chancellor a surprising degree of fiscal flexibility, but the atrocities in Paris certainly pushed questions of policing and security to the top of the political agenda. For a police service expecting anything from a 20 to a 30 per cent cut in funding, fears reinforced by the apparent hard line the Chancellor took over the weekend, this reprieve is an almighty relief.  

So, what was announced?  The overall police budget will be protected in real terms (£900 million more in cash terms) up to 2019/20 with the following important caveats.  First, central government grant to forces will be reduced in cash terms by 2019/20, but forces will be able to bid into a new transformation fund designed to finance moves such as greater collaboration between forces.  In other words there is a cash frozen budget (given important assumptions about council tax) eaten away by inflation and therefore requiring further efficiencies and service redesign.

Second, the flat cash budget for forces assumes increases in the police element of the council tax. Here, there is an interesting new flexibility for Police and Crime Commissioners.  One interpretation is that instead of precept increases being capped at 2%, they will be capped at £12 million, although we need further detail to be certain.  This may mean that forces which currently raise relatively small cash amounts from their precept will be able to raise considerably more if Police and Crime Commissioners have the courage to put up taxes.  

With those caveats, however, this is clearly a much better deal for policing than most commentators (myself included) predicted.  There will be less pressure to reduce officer numbers. Neighbourhood policing, previously under real threat, is likely to remain an important component of the policing model in England and Wales.  This is good news.

However, the police service should not use this financial reprieve as an excuse to duck important reforms.  The reforms that the police have already planned should continue, with any savings reinvested in an improved and more effective service.

It would be a retrograde step for candidates in the 2016 PCC elections to start pledging (as I am certain many will) to ‘protect officer numbers’.  We still need to rebalance the police workforce.   We need more staff with the kind of digital skills required to tackle cybercrime.  We need more crime analysts to help deploy police resources more effectively.  Blanket commitments to maintain officer numbers will get in the way of important reforms.

The argument for inter-force collaboration and, indeed, force mergers does not go away. The new top sliced transformation fund is designed in part to facilitate collaboration, but the fact remains that a 43 force structure no longer makes sense in operational or financial terms.

The police still have to adapt to a changing world. Falling levels of traditional crime and the explosion in online crime, particularly fraud and hacking, means we need an entirely different kind of police service.  Many of the pressures the police experience from non-crime demand will not go away. Big cuts to local government funding and the wider criminal justice system mean we need to reorganise the public service frontline to deal with problems such as high reoffending rates, child safeguarding and rising levels of mental illness.

Before yesterday I thought policing faced an existential moment and I stand by that. While the service has now secured significant financial breathing space, it still needs to adapt to an increasingly complex world. 

Rick Muir is director of the Police Foundation