From the heated debates over Brexit and the increasingly crude culture war that’s pushing us further apart, to the way regions and nations across the UK are being pitted against each other, creating further resentment.
As we seek to rebuild from this terrible pandemic, as cities, regions and nations in the UK, we simply must use this moment of national recovery to strive to heal these growing divisions. That’s why, since being re-elected as Mayor of London, I’ve made reaching out and building bridges between our capital and other regions around the UK a priority.
Rather than focusing on what divides us, I want to focus more on what unites us, both culturally and economically, and how we can work together with common purpose. As part of this, I’m passionate about ensuring that London plays its part in the national recovery effort.
Our local economies, cities and regions don’t exist in isolation. We are bound together more than ever by supply chains and a complex web of social and commercial ties. Today, for example, I’m visiting North Yorkshire, along with the newly-elected Mayor of West Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin, to see first-hand the state-of-the-art electric buses that are being manufactured for Transport for London (TfL) by Switch Mobility in Sherburn-in-Elmet.
There are currently 67 Switch electric buses in operation in London, with the delivery of 30 more set to expand our fleet. The Yorkshire firm estimates that around 50 per cent of its revenue came from TfL contracts last year, while our target of making all London’s buses zero-emission by 2030 means that our city has also placed orders with companies based in Scarborough, Falkirk and Ballymena. All of this is helping to create high-quality jobs and to boost local economies across the country.
I think it’s important to highlight these kinds of links because it helps to challenge the view that the best way to level up the country is to level down London. Levelling up our towns and cities should not be seen as a zero-sum game. We shouldn’t fall into the trap of believing that there’s a simple choice between investing in London or the rest of the UK. This notion that’s being pushed is simply another form of divisive politics that will fail to deliver the jobs, growth and prosperity we need across the UK.
The suggestion that we are competitors, rather than partners, is in no-one’s interests. This may be politically convenient for some in the short-term, but it’s disingenuous and damaging to our sense of national unity and pride.
Clipping London’s wings will not help other regions to soar, while a failure to invest in infrastructure, green technology and regeneration schemes in the North and the Midlands will only make us all worse off. The truth is London succeeds when the rest of the UK succeeds – and vice-versa. That’s why we should always strive to lift each other up.
We also must not forget that there is still a massive job to do to level up within our cities as well as between our regions. As the son of a bus driver and someone who grew-up on a council estate in South London I can speak from experience about the economic inequality within my city, which has been getting worse over recent decades. A child born into poverty in Lewisham or Stratford is blighted by deprivation and inequality in much the same way as a child born in similar circumstances in Leeds or Sheffield.
So we need to put the politics aside and work together to progress a genuine levelling-up process across the country. London stands ready to play its part. Part of the solution will be greater devolution across our country. What we need to see is much more control over funding and powers being passed down to all our local authorities, cities and regions across England. This would help to drive our national recovery, create jobs and target investment at those who need it most – wherever they live.
Contrary to what some people might think, I know that as a Londoner I have a lot in common with people across Yorkshire. Not just a passion for cricket and cups of tea, but things that are much more fundamental – a desire to see the next generation do better than the last, a desire for dignity in old age, and a desire to see decent, secure, well-paid jobs being created for our communities.
We also want to ensure we have affordable homes for our families, proper skills and training programmes for our young people, safe streets, and modern, reliable and sustainable public transport systems that don’t break the bank for commuters.
I know we can make more progress towards these shared goals by working together. I look forward to working closely with Tracy Brabin and other mayors across the country, and I sincerely hope that, over the crucial months and years ahead, we can show how London is an ally, rather than an adversary, in the vital mission to level up our towns, cities and regions across our country.
Sadiq Khan is the Mayor of London.
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