What to do about London?
London seems to be growing almost exponentially and policy seems to be ever more London centric. Outside the “Home Counties” the rest of the country seems to be being left behind – much to the resentment of the rich South East.
And yet we read of problems in London. Congestion, Airport under-capacity, Spiralling House prices (OK if you have one) and key workers unable to afford to live in London but unable to afford to travel into London.
Surely continuing like this is madness?
We see so many examples of policy that seems to be ignoring or even accelerating this madness.
The Golden Triangle The Universities of Oxford, Cambridge and London (UCL) form a golden triangle that seem to mop up the majority of research funding. Now these are excellent universities, but others outside the golden triangle can rival them in some areas and could, given the chance, grow to also be world-challenging. Research Funding “follows excellence”; but is this the appropriate policy for the whole country – or a self-fulfilling prophesy? Should there be a development agenda of similar size?
Motorways Remember the M25 (to by-pass London!) when built was a three-lane motorway with a two-lane crossing east of London (Dartford Tunnel)? Now it is predominantly four-lane (six-lane in places) with the east London Crossing capacity doubled – and yet it still gets congested.
Airport Expansion We are told that London needs another airport – but we all suspect that this will just drive up air traffic leading to a demand for further capacity. Heathrow terminal 4, Heathrow terminal 5, Gatwick North terminal, Stansted, Luton, London City, London Southend Airport. And yet for most of the country if we want to fly long-haul we have to go via Heathrow – unless we feel that it is such a hell-hole that we take a short-haul flight to Schiphol, Frankfurt or Charles de Gaulle.
Railways HS1 links London to the Continent via St Pancras and plans to run High Speed trains from there up the East Coast have been abandoned. HS2 to Birmingham will mean that firms no longer need branch offices in Birmingham as you will be able to pop up from London to the Birmingham suburban office. Head Offices in Birmingham can be easily moved to London. Looking at the layout of the later (possible) extension of HS2 into Leeds shows a terminal with lines facing London; the link to the East coast mainline can only go towards London – but not into the Leeds terminal.
Water The South East is desperately short of water, but we concrete over more of the South East (reducing the supply of water from aquifers – and increasing flood risk!) and allow population to expand (increasing demand). Now someone is talking of building a massive canal from Kielder Reservoir in Northumberland to bring water South!
Housing Decent housing in London is impossibly expensive (rent or buy) thereby distorting the demographic balance and making it impossible for “key workers” [read: underpaid but essential] to live near their work. Yet more and more people put up with commuting an hour or more (each way) everyday. Yet in the North East (England) three bedroom detached houses in pleasant towns may be less than £200,000.
Jobs Except for small pockets, unemployment is not a major regional problem in the South East, yet outside the South East whole regions suffer from unemployment and are a continuous drain on the National Exchequer. And the less informed Southerners fume “why can’t those in the provinces just get a job and stop claiming welfare?” They would if the jobs were there; for example:
Key points of a report about a single job advert:
- Minimum wage jobs (or marginally more) at café, takeaway and convenience store
- Full time but with some hours going on until 1:30am
- Regional unemployment running at 10.1 per cent
- Applicants from unemployed and from those who have had their hours cut
- Employing as his senior administrator someone who is heptalingual with two degrees, and a business diploma
- Employing as a chef someone who had had only two interviews in two years.
Summarised from Financial Times 13 May 2013 Newcastle store where 5,000 applied for just 50 vacancies – registration required
Policy Policy is made in London for the whole country (England). The regional Government Offices have been closed – as have the regional development agencies. The enforcement of that policy is also predominantly London centric. The FSA was based in London, RBS, HBOS, Northern Rock, Bradford and Bingley and Dunfirmline Building Society were not – I wonder if the FSA knew of Inter-City trains or whether they were frightened of provincial hotels?