For all the talk about how devolving more power and financial autonomy to London will be super useful for us, it can occasionally be hard not to nod off at talk of fiscal policy and stamp duty land tax. It’s all a bit amorphous, saying we’d be able to build more houses or fund more infrastructure. Yes, we want to say; lovely. But how and what and where?
The first point of call for anything to do with devolution should always be the London Finance Commission report Raising the Capital. Written by an independent committee chaired by Tony Travers, it’s a comprehensive look at the kinds of powers London could and should have, and how to implement them. However, it’s a bit short on practical suggestions — which isn’t the fault of the report, as it’s down to politicians to decide whether property taxes should be funnelled towards Crossrail 2 or a programme of social housebuilding.
So we went looking for more specific examples of what devolution could do for London. Darren Johnson, one of the Greens on the London Assembly, describes how “introducing additional council tax bands could ensure those in multi-million pound London properties contribute their fair share towards the running of the city. It could allow income from stamp duty, combined with a relaxation on the borrowing cap on local councils, to be used to fund a programme of genuinely affordable social housing.”
Andrew Carter, Acting Chief Executive at Centre for Cities, suggests London could have “greater control over welfare-to-work contracts and skills and education programmes, a more reliable and secure settlement for Transport for London, and further planning powers to unlock development — including authority to conduct reviews of the green belt and re-designate land, and to establish development corporations to support large-scale projects”.
Carter also makes the excellent point that devolution isn’t just about getting us more cash. “It’s also about strengthening the certainty around its planning,” he says. “Reducing risks and costs, and augmenting the incentives to encourage development, which is critical to economic growth. When local leaders know they will have the funding to support investments in housing, transport and local services, they are much more willing and able to deliver more homes, and to bear the disruptions and financial risk associated with transport investment and reconfiguring public services.”
Sadiq Khan, Shadow Minister for London and currently campaigning to be re-elected as MP for Tottenham, also mentions housing, and gives us another suggestion about how devolution could help get Londoners into work. “Currently, adult skills training and further education is controlled by distant civil servants in Whitehall. This means courses and programmes aren’t adapted to meet the needs of local people. So in Hackney for example, the majority of further education places are for beauticians and hairdressers. But Hackney already has too many beauticians, so people struggle to find work after they’ve finished their training.
“Instead, Hackney has a big shortage of skilled workers for its booming hotel industry,” he continues. “Giving Hackney Council and the London Mayor control over further education spending would mean that they could provide more hospitality training courses and get more local people into well paid, secure jobs. Applied across the capital this could get tens of thousands more people into work and provide a huge boost for the capital’s economy.”