Andrew Boff is a Conservative member of the London Assembly and is seeking to be the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London.
Without a shadow of a doubt, London is the engine of the British economy. Domestically it accounts for a quarter of GDP, and internationally it is the world’s fifth largest city economy. The London economy, at £350 billion, is the size of the entire Swedish economy and, if statisticians were to remove London from UK GDP figures, Britain would slip from 5th to 9th in the world rankings. The capital takes such a national lead that it is not so much the engine of the economy, as the V12 monster of the British economy.
Yet London is in many ways a victim of its own success. The population of the capital is likely to surge to nine million by 2020, and will officially become a mega-city when its population exceeds 10 million in 2030. Unavoidably, a larger population means a larger working population. This will affect London’s ability to manage its housing, jobs, transport and public service demands.
Such pressures should be a worry for the rest of Britain. Over-crowding and a lack of efficient transport infrastructure could reduce London’s economic capability and impact upon tax receipts. Roughly the equivalent of £2,500 from every Londoner goes to subsidise other parts of the UK. This equates to approximately £1 in every £5 generated through taxation in London being transferred out of the city to fund public services throughout the country. London is, therefore, the greatest contributor to Treasury receipts and its ongoing success is integral to national success.
But it is not an island. Many of the city’s transport, housing, and economic issues impact upon areas situated outside of Greater London, and millions commute in and out of the city every week. Indeed, London’s travel-to-work area extends well beyond the city’s boundaries and is almost equal to London in size. There are whole swathes of the Home Counties where more people work in London then in their home county, as the below map clearly highlights:
The counties surrounding London have, in many ways, just as great an interest in the success of the capital as its residents. Much of the new housing needed for London will not be built in the capital and the two greatest infrastructure projects in the region (Crossrail 1 and 2), both extend into London’s commuter belt. Given London’s changing needs and growing challenges, it is reasonable to suggest that London exerts greater influence over policy decisions outside of its current boundaries.
Residents of the Home Counties have very little say over the governance of London or the policy decisions that have a great impact upon their regions. The city limits of London should be extended to include its travel-to-work area. This would give people in the wider travel-to-work area a voice in the governance of London and help spread the proceeds of growth throughout the South East.
London’s current borders were drawn over 60 years ago and are clearly no longer fit for purpose. In 1957, the then Prime Minister Harold Macmillan established the Herbert Commission. A key plank of the Commission’s proposals was that a ‘Greater London’ should be established to approximate what was then London’s travel-to-work area. The Commission was quick to highlight that the complex and parochial set of institutions that grew out of London’s medieval core had become redundant. Modern London is now at a similar juncture.
Extending London’s borders to include the commuter belt could create a Southern Powerhouse worth £500 billion, which would make it the world’s third largest city economy. Expanding London in this way would allow the South East to meet the region’s shared economic and social problems head on. As Mayor, I would call for an immediate review of the boundary of the Greater London so that the capital has complete control over its own destiny.