London needs to avoid been seen as part of the problem over rebalancing the economy, said the former head of the civil service, Bob Kerslake, speaking at a fringe meeting at the Labour Party conference in Brighton.
“Unless London is part of the national conversation about rebalancing the economy, then that conversation becomes about redistribution – so, London needs to be talking to other councils in the north,” said Kerslake, who was speaking at a meeting organised by London Councils, a cross-party group representing London’s 32 borough councils and the City of London.
Kerslake also highlighted the need to reconnect disadvantaged people in London with an economy that is not working for everyone and said that affordable housing provision was an urgent priority for the capital. “Genuinely affordable social renting has been squeezed out of London. Councils can build schemes but there is no point if people can’t afford to live there,” he said.
Infrastructure spending was also identified by the former civil service boss as being crucial, not only to rebalancing the UK economy but also for ensuring London continued to prosper. “The Treasury cap is 1.2% on infrastructure investment and in Europe it’s 3%, so there is room for development in this area.
“Transport is crucially important and we need significant investment in public transport, which is a change from the past as people’s mobility needs change. We are moving to a position where half of London will not have a car. TfL doesn’t have the resources to deliver on this and it needs to be addressed,” Kerslake said.
The need to join up local housing developments in London with infrastructure was stressed by many of those present at the London Councils event. Enfield Council leader Nesil Caliskan mspoke for many when she said: “Infrastructure is crucial. We had local council investment in our Meridian Water scheme to ensure that we had decent infrastructure. If you build homes and don’t connect them up with good infrastructure then you are condemning people to poverty and inequality,” she said.