London party

Telling the story of London

It seems to be an almost universally recognized political truth that leveling the UK must mean moving economic and community wealth out of London.

But a panel of experts has examined this claim, pointing out the flaws in this reasoning and beginning to consider the new narratives that should replace it.

Opening the recent discussion on an optimistic note, National Organization for Local Economies (CLES) chief executive Sarah Longlands points out that the publication of the Leveling Up white paper in February gave the impression that “the penny has finally gone down “.

Speaking at the event in Bethnal Green in east London organized by CLES, she said that while it was good to see that we had “finally admitted that our economic system was not working for the people of UK”, we don’t. I don’t have clarity yet on how the upgrade will be done.

The ambiguity remains, “particularly around the resources, the powers, the agency if you will, both at the national level and at the local level, to really start to change things” and to change the economic system itself.

She thinks the upgrade program has placed too much emphasis on the ‘imaginary red wall somewhere north of Watford’. She thinks many who work and live in London have [come across] a feeling that leveling up means leveling down London, and that “London was fine and it’s what’s happening in the north or the West Midlands that we really have to deal with”.

She continues: “Of course I don’t need to tell you that there are inequalities and challenges in London like everywhere else in the UK, and I guess that’s the really interesting conversation we want. to have.”

In his view, the other challenge with the Leveling Up white paper is that the prescription seems to be “more of the same.”

She mentions a quote from the white paper “which talks about ‘growing the cake everywhere for everyone’, but making the cake bigger is not enough – it’s what we’ve been trying to do for many years.”

Looking at London she says ‘what we are growing are huge levels of unaffordability, rising levels of child poverty and income inequality’ and she asks if ‘these are the measures we want to keep growing at the future”.

There are five different levers that can be pulled to really start accelerating the flow of wealth into communities and lives, she concludes; “decent jobs, land and property, shopping and ordering using your own economic muscle to really drive change, finance and finally property and reconnect people to their economy”.

In an overview of the challenges for the capital, the chief executive of the Center for Cities think tank, Dr Nick Bowes, said London “has the second highest regional unemployment rate in the country after the North East, it’s is the worst inequality, with 27% of Londoners living in poverty”.

“And although the median income is the highest in the UK, when you factor in housing costs it is just above the national average.”

The capital has been hit harder by the pandemic, more people have been laid off, unemployment has risen more and it has probably struggled more to recover from the pandemic than any other part of the country, he adds.

But besides that, it’s also a very prosperous global city, “and the leader in many sectors of finance, technology, entertainment, fashion, film, media and publishing, the list goes on, there’s this incredible soft power projection across the world that other cities would give anything to have, and that’s a huge net contributor to the treasury.”

He says “we can try to tell this story and make sure London gets the attention it needs without hurting its success, but we have a problem because when we use this argument we are either not believed or people don’t really care.’

Highlighting “a very strong perception that London has no poor people or challenges”, he says “it’s a really big job to tackle some of these issues”.

There are also “really difficult political challenges”, with London “just not important to the Conservative Party nationally….and the Labor Party risks taking the city for granted”. So London is missing out on both fronts, “and it’s worse than that – there are actually votes to be had for bashing the city”.

But he stresses that the case that London needs its fair share of upgrade resources will not be won by throwing away data. There are no killer statistics that will tip the case in favor of London, he thinks.

What’s the best way to tell these new stories about London that Dr Bowes says are so crucial? Cllr Rabina Khan is the Liberal Democrat candidate for mayor of Tower Hamlets LBC. She says she can see how things have evolved in the borough, from the rag trade and the wharfs being demolished, to the construction of Canary Wharf, but the fact remains that 56% of children live in poverty and the average annual income of many families is £15,000.

Following the departure of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and its nearly 1,000 Canary Wharf jobs following the Brexit vote, she wondered what could replace her. She says she decided to run a campaign supporting the importance of the life sciences industry to the economy. ‘To me [the best way] telling the story of Tower Hamlets and getting the government’s attention was launching a campaign for the life sciences. Due to its diverse local population, she says, the local Barts Health NHS Trust holds the largest database of diverse [medical research] data in Europe. “And that would mean the upgrade program could use the life sciences economy in Tower Hamlets.”

Cllr Georgia Gould is the Labor leader of Camden LBC and Chairman of London Councils. She says that while the government’s “national message deliberately stokes tensions and differences between cities for political purposes”, she believes there is a different story to be told that is being led by local leaders. She points to some recent work done by both Camden LBC and Leeds City Council, where they both talked about common challenges, “and we both had a shared discussion about how we use wealth principles. community and the links between our cities”.

The challenges facing London “perfectly describe” those facing its borough. As well as being home to Google’s headquarters, she says Camden has Europe’s largest center for biomedical research at the Francis Crick Institute, as well as Facebook and Universal Music – “all those incredible companies that have found their home at King’s Cross”. .

But she insists that while the borough has these global business gems, “you just have to walk around there, you have some of the worst poverty not just in London but in the country, and those two things go hand in hand “. A survey early in the pandemic found a primary school “20 seconds from Google” where 70% of children did not have access to a device to learn from home. They were “close by, but still incredibly far”.

If there’s one thing that drives what Camden is trying to do, it’s wanting these businesses to be “not places young people pass through on their way to school, but places they interact with, in which they work, which they help shape”.

And there’s “a different kind of anger that comes from living in really extreme poverty alongside that kind of wealth, and it’s very difficult for our communities,” she points out. “We have done a lot to connect these two communities and to make sure these opportunities are shared. But our communities still speak of sometimes feeling like an island of poverty between glass buildings. Persuading and bringing together will be key to bringing some of this richness to communities, she adds.

Returning to Dr Bowes, he focuses firmly on the importance of finding a way to “put the country back together because it’s a very divided and fragmented country”, before he reaches what he calls a “point a break”.

He’s also convinced it’s time to tell why London’s success matters to the whole country. He adds: “The part of the story we need to tell better is what does Google’s headquarters at King’s Cross in London bring to the whole country?” We forgot to say [story], or we didn’t have to tell that story. But I think we’re going to have to find ways to do that.