Sir Simon Milton: Boris is transforming London
Sir Simon Milton is Chief of Staff to Boris Johnson. In this post he responds to yesterday's suggestion from Stephan Shakespeare that London's Mayor had been insufficiently radical.
Stephan Shakespeare writes that there has been ‘no notable achievement’ in London since the election of Boris Johnson as Mayor.
I will concede that when you are in the super tanker you can sometimes be forgiven for assuming that the hive of activity you are part of isn’t always apparent to those on the outside.
So in many ways, I am grateful to Stephan for allowing me this opportunity to talk about not only what Boris has already achieved in a comparatively short space of time, but also what we plan to do to transform London.
Many readers will recall, in the run up to the 2008 Mayoral election, that the balance of opinion of Boris was decidedly sceptical - even when it became clear that he would win, and win well. The consensus was, given his lack of experience in ‘running things’, he would struggle to deliver the promises he made.
Over the last year, that opinion has changed. Even Boris’s detractors acknowledge that he has delivered the vast majority of commitments he made during the election. Perhaps because politicians have made a fine art of promising one thing and doing the opposite, when one comes along that actually does what he says it can take a little getting used to.
From banning alcohol on the tube, to listening to west Londoners about the extended congestion charge zone, to freezing the council tax for the first time in the GLA’s history, Boris has delivered.
But, as Stephan rightly points out, the true test of political leadership is not in the individual achievements, but in the core ideas and sense of broader purpose that ultimately delivers and drives real change.
Our administration is focused on addressing the twin economic and social challenges facing the city.
We need to get London through the recession, creating the conditions to return to growth and maintain it. We want London to be the most dynamic, diverse and innovative city economy in the world. So as well as standing up for the financial services industry, which pays many of the taxes on which the Treasury relies, we’re pursuing a strategy of economic diversity by supporting higher education, the green and creative industries among others.
We’re also pursuing social change.
Just recently, Boris launched a new design guide for publicly funded housing, introducing new space standards and setting a high bar for quality of design. This reflects our determination to eradicate the term ‘sink estate’, and open up opportunities for those who have been left in a generational cycle of poverty by successive Governments.
We’re tackling the scourge of youth crime which so dominated the run-up to the election with its weekly toll of shot and stabbed young, mainly black, Londoners. Our strategy for tackling this, Time for Action, has been well received as the first concerted attempt in London to bring all of the agencies together with a single focus and through the course of this autumn you will see the key elements of that strategy being delivered on the ground.
The Mayor is also seeking to develop a new approach to delivering equalities within London – one of the most unequal cities in the UK. His strategy Equal Life Chances for All which will shortly be published will change the GLA approach from one which emphasised grievance and division to one that seeks to help Londoners achieve their aspirations wherever they start from in life.
Above all, we’re addressing the environmental challenges. Boris is in the process of instigating a cycle revolution, to achieve a fivefold increase in the share of journeys taken by bike. Backed up by an investment of over £100 million over the next few years, Londoners will be able to take advantage of a cycle hire scheme, and use cycle superhighways to commute to work.
Boris is also leading the charge on electric vehicles, sending a clear message to industry that London is fertile territory to kick start the beginning of the end of the petrol engine. He will shortly be setting out proposals to tackle London’s poor air quality too.
The aim is to lead the way in how cities reduce their emissions and change behaviour.
And of course, Boris has started to make huge inroads into tackling the pattern of wasteful and inefficient expenditure that he inherited. Restructuring programmes at the GLA and LDA are already yielding dividends in productivity and hard cash savings and TfL is committed to an operational cost reduction programme totalling £2.5 billion. And unlike the government he has already started the necessary but painful task of prioritising the resources at his disposal and cancelled projects which can no longer be justified in the current economic climate.
Stephan accuses the Mayor of not tackling the big issues. This is unfair. To take the one example cited in the article; the congestion caused by roadworks. We have been working hard behind the scenes to get the utility companies to improve their behaviour. Boris persuaded Thames Water to invest in ‘plates’ acting as temporary covers over the holes dug so cars can drive over unhindered. We have agreed with London’s Boroughs on a new permit scheme designed to make the utility companies ask for permission before they dig- enabling us to reduce the disruption caused.
But all of this has to be achieved by voluntary agreement. Until the Government gives us the powers to make the permit scheme compulsory with financial consequences, the disruption will continue. The good news is that Boris has pressed the matter forcefully with the Department for Transport to give us the tools to do the job and we hope this will happen before the end of the year.
Constructive advice from friends is always welcome and Stephan has long had a professional interest in all things Mayoral. But his assessment fails to tell the full story. There is, and will be, plenty for David Cameron to point to and say, “see what a difference a Conservative can make”.