Capital questions:The priority areas that need to be addressed urgently

November 26, 1999


Although the mayor will not have direct responsibility for the new NHS London region, the King's Fund, the influential health-policy charity, has been lobbying to ensure the responsibility of the Greater London Authority to improve the health of Londoners.

According to a King's Fund spokesperson: "The mayor will have a vast range of unofficial responsibilities for public health and will have to think of the health implications of everything he does, including transport, business promotion and law and order."

The fund has carried out a survey of Londoners' needs, which identified improving air quality as a top priority, and has conducted research that found that the reason so many lorries go through the centre of town is to deliver to supermarkets and that most people then drive to buy their food.

It is also concerned about the difficulties older people face in getting around and wants more mobility buses. According to Martin Knapp, director of the Centre for the Economics of Mental Health at Maudsley Hospital, research has shown that mental healthcare in London, especially in disadvantaged innercity areas that have suffered long-term under-funding, could benefit from a more strategic approach. "Mental health impacts into many areas of life such as special housing, unemployment and disrupted families so there is need for support from many agencies," he says."I definitely see the appointment of the mayor as an opportunity for better coordination and improved mental health care."


The mayor will have limited powers over education, but he or she will be able to use considerable influence, including lobbying for funds for London's education system.

Research groups are aware that success in this field requires overcoming the paradox of London having a shortage of skilled labour alongside a pool of unemployment and correcting the mismatch between training and required skills. A key figure ensuring academic involvement in the new London structures is Roderick Floud, provost of London Guildhall University. He is on the advisory council of New Voice for London and chairs the steering committee of the new London Higher Education Consortium, comprising 39 higher education institutions within Greater London. The consortium's aim is to improve communication between London's universities and those, predominantly businesses, who use their services, chiefly by setting up databases and providing advisers on technology to small businesses. "Already about one-third of all publicly funded research is commissioned in London, and almost half of my students have part-time employment here; so very direct links with industry already exist," he says. "But these can always be made better, particularly through improved knowledge of the needs of the London labour market."

An initiative being researched by Arts Inform, an offshoot of the London Arts Board, aims to help school children explore issues associated with the election of the mayor. Younger children will learn about mayors in other world cities, while older ones may be taught to compare the coverage of the election in tabloids and broadsheets, or could engage in an exercise learning how to budget for electioneering.


Whatever the variations in emphasis, all of the London research groups agree that improving transport in the capital is the key to fulfilling any other policies.

It is the tool that can heal divisions between rich and poor and bring disadvantaged communities into the mainstream economy.

Research among companies for the London Business Manifesto has shown strong opposition to workplace parking levies, which would do little to change travel behaviour and simply be an additional tax on doing business in London. Business could, however, support road-user charges if they are hypothecated for additional spending on transport.

A London First spokeswoman says: "We are asking the mayor for a five to ten-year transport plan for the city. He should be able to borrow on the back of the revenue stream (expected to be Pounds 200 million a year) and spend this on buses, tubes, and different rail links - the Chelsea-Hackney line is particularly vital to get people from deprived areas to where the jobs are.

"There is also a huge need for river crossings in East London, which has two or three compared with 13 in West London."

Tony Travers, director of the Greater London Research Centre at the London School of Economics, says: "If the new mayor does only one thing it should be to produce the world's most rigorously managed bus priority routes in London, with transport police enforcing every one of them.

"Improving bus services could be done within a year if there is an immediate start. Although the other side of the coin will be some suppression of the car in central London, there will be public support as long as people see something being done."


Tower Hamlets is the most ethnically diverse and the most impoverished borough in the country. Simon Hallsworth - senior lecturer in criminology at London Guildhall University, who recently completed two research projects on the borough - says he is concerned because what the public sees are brochures that talk about mission statements and plans but are full of sweeping generalisations.

"What the new mayor will read about are wonderful things and grand initiatives. But the differences between presentation and reality are vast."

The reality, Hallsworth says, is that 25 per cent of Tower Hamlets' population is under 15 years old, there is a heroin epidemic, one in three homes has no wage earner, the borough is divided into territorial units run by gangs, and the police, as the frontline agency of control, respond by stopping and searching and are then perceived as racist.

He calls for something more than "symbolic governance" to be done locally so that, at the very least, youth in the East End have somewhere to go and something to do. "How can you plan strategically when the only provisions at the local youth club are one pack of cards and a pool table?" Lola Young and Heidi Mirza, two of the first black female professors in the United Kingdom, tell a similar story. Mirza, professor of racial equalities studies at Middlesex University, grew up in Brixton and the Caribbean and sits on the School Standards Task Force. She is concerned about what has happened to the infrastructure in many poor areas, where youth centres and other meeting places have closed.

"If you research people's experiences at local level, you find that almost the only thing left is an impoverished primary school. What happens then is that these cultures are labelled passive and low aspirational, but in fact many ethnic minority cultures are now running black Saturday schools for themselves."

She says these people do not need top-down policy advice but a mayor prepared to get out and look with different eyes. "The mayor could provide some kind of bridging between local peoples' voices and official policy."

Young, recently seconded from Middlesex University to be project director of a new National Museum and Archives of Black History, insists there is still a need to explain to black people how to make the most of the system.

At the same time, politicians need a new mindset so that instead of just talking about London as a culturally diverse community, "those people who give out that money must have a clear concept of the real contribution black arts and culture can make to the economic life of London".

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