Baroness McGregor-Smith is the ninth contender to agree to answer our questions. She is the former chief executive of Mitie, the outsourcing and energy firm. She is also a former chair of the Women’s Business Council and has served as a Business Ambassador for UKTI.
Why are you standing for Mayor of London?
I arrived in London when I was two with my mum; we joined my dad who’d come to London the year before, in pursuit of a better life for his family. Our wonderful capital and our great country have given me everything and now I want to repay that debt.
Today, with rising knife crime, young people and families unable to afford homes of their own, our urban environment still affecting people’s health and wellbeing, transport groaning, opportunity stalling, and nothing substantive being done to tackle these issues: it is time for new leadership for London.
The Mayor has two central roles: executive and ambassadorial. I can fulfil both. I have top-level business executive experience as CEO of a public company with around 60,000 employees. I have worked within Government as a Director at the DfE, on the PM’s Holocaust Commission, and last year I did an important report, Race in the Workplace, on how we can better harness the talents of our black and minority ethnic communities to Britain’s economic benefit.
As both an ambassador for and executive of London I hope to be able to repay my city and my country. I want to re-ignite the possibility, opportunity, and confidence of the greatest city on earth. That’s why I’m running.
What sort of campaign should the Conservatives run?
A winning campaign. You can’t change things unless you’re in City Hall. And London needs to see some changes.
Whatever the pundits say, our Conservative values are London’s values. People like my mum and dad came to Britain and to London for the opportunity it offered. To provide a better life for themselves, their family, and to contribute to our community. They wanted to work hard, play by the rules and get on.
Wherever you’re from – inner London or outer London, Crisp Street or Cheyne Walk, we need to show all Londoners that we’re in it for them. Labour’s platform seeks to divide our city, placing people and communities in competition with each other, for a slice of the cake Labour dolls out. Our campaign has to be one based on values, not ideology. Those values need to drive practical policies to cut crime, reform transport, deliver housing, improve our environment, and see our great City thrive economically post-Brexit, delivering the jobs and opportunities that Londoners need into the future.
We have to show all Londoners that our values are their values, that we can deliver and have the skills and experience to do so. Part of that must be showing that we’re prepared to work across all branches of government, the GLA and Local Authorities, being prepared to pool resources for best outcomes rather than protecting our fiefdoms.
I have spent my business life pulling people together and delivering. My values are London’s values and Londoners want someone to deliver for them.
As a party, we have struggled in the past to get across our values and our desire and ability to deliver policies that meet Londoners needs and aspirations. That’s the campaign I can and will run if selected as our candidate.
What would you do to reduce crime?
The recent re-emergence of murderous knife crime, largely fuelled by drugs gangs, is a stain on our City.
I have a son in his teens and I cannot imagine the heartbreak that too many mothers in our city are having to go through on an almost daily basis. There are both practical policing and changes in attitude that we need to see.
I am dismayed by the closing of community police stations and the lack of focus on community policing. The work done in Glasgow on gangs and knife crime should be a shining example of best practice that we need to follow. We need public services to work together with community policing at its heart to drive change.
Also, quite frankly, we need to really address the social acceptability of Class A drug use in some of the more privileged parts of our city. It needs to be brought home to some people the social and human cost of the use of cocaine. I want to create a change in attitude towards hard drug use and make it as socially unacceptable as racism or homophobia because for some, at the moment, it isn’t. While addiction needs to be looked at from a medical standpoint; casual hard-core drug use is not a victimless crime and I want to see those who drive demand face up to the cost of supply.
Finally, we need to do everything possible to stop re-offending and promote rehabilitation. As CEO of Mitie we worked with HMP Brixton on Clink, helping offenders get the skills they need, and in doing so, reduced re-offending rates by 41 per cent. Good job opportunities in communities prevent people getting involved in crime in the first place and a serious joined-up approach to rehabilitation, with work and opportunity at its core, can dramatically cut re-offending too. As Mayor I would pull together public sector service and business to get them working together to really drive a new approach.
What would you do about housing?
We’ve got big issues on housing.When Graham and I were newly married young professionals in our late-20s we were able to buy our own home. We couldn’t have done that today. I want that opportunity to be available to every Londoner who works hard and wants it – and renters to get a fair deal. Those are the values that will underpin my housing policy.
We’ve got to take a look at planning rules, particularly increasing density. When half a street has “build up” with mansard roof extensions, we’ve got to look at the rules to make it easier for others to do the same. When you head out to the near-east end, which is seeing a population boom and you still see single-story buildings that replaced bombsites from the War – there’s something clearly wrong.
Additionally, TFL is one of the biggest landowners in London and a lot of London Councils are in a similar position in their boroughs. As Mayor I’d want a proper review of all non-amenity land owned by public bodies and to see it released for development if there’s local support and no good reason for it not to be. The hoarding of land and property by increasingly ideologically driven Labour councils is madness and needs to stop.
We also need to ensure that renters get a fair deal. Most landlords are reasonable and seek a reasonable return but as Mayor I won’t stand for the small minority who bully the weak and rip tenants off. A minority of landlords bring the rest down and I will work with Government, the GLA and local authorities to ensure sharp practices end.
What would you do to improve transport?
London needs to build a transport system for the future. This is one area where technology is rapidly changing things with automation. Driverless cars, buses, and trains are not far away and I will work with the unions, with a plan to see a movement to, over time, re-skill and retrain. Having strike after strike serves no-one and Labour has let London down. Safety and reliability are essential for commuters and casual travellers alike. It’s unacceptable that passengers are being made to suffer. London needs a Mayor who is prepared to bring people together – and if necessary bang heads together – but who starts with a plan for the long-term and seeks support to get everyone on board.
Transport is also a major issue when it comes to pollution and air quality. Whatever the future holds in terms of technology, one of the major considerations must be energy efficiency and low pollution. This is happening with Black Cabs and it must be an area where we roll out more broadly.
The sharing of information – and where possible budgets – will be a top priority. The train services serving South London are a major cause for concern. London’s outer-boroughs particularly need a Mayor with a focus on transport plans to match their needs for buses, cars and bikes, as well as rail, DLR and tube.
Finally, as someone who drives regularly, one of the most colossal irritants, is that at the end of every financial year local authorities rush to spend budgets and dig up roads. There has to be a better way, working with local authorities and TFL to ensure that these spikes in roadworks don’t occur and that authorities are able to carry out roadworks when needed, rather than as per the financial year.