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King’s Commission on London proposes solutions to the city’s complex challenges

Deborah Bull of King's College London introduces the final report of the King’s Commission on London.
This article is more than 6 years old

Deborah Bull is Vice President & Vice-Principal (London) at King’s College London.

Last week, against a backdrop of Tower Bridge and beyond, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan launched the report of King’s Commission on London – London 2030 and beyond – at City Hall.

This in-depth review of the challenges facing the capital warns that London’s health, further education, and skills systems are fragmented, complex and unlikely to deliver optimal outcomes unless more power is devolved to the city’s Mayor.

A focus on vital issues that are often overlooked

The Commission was set up in 2016 by the Policy Institute at King’s – a unit of the university that exists to address complex policy challenges through a combination of academic rigour and inclusive, cross-disciplinary conversations. The Commission – which has been co-chaired by Lord (Andrew) Adonis, former Cabinet Minister and Transport Secretary, and Professor Tony Travers, Director of LSE London – focus on two themes that over the course of the Commission rose to the top of the public’s agenda. First, healthcare, especially in primary healthcare; and second, skills, with a particular emphasis on apprenticeships and further education. To a degree, this focus aligns with the expertise at King’s; but it also reflects the Commission’s sense that although these were vital issues for London, they were often overlooked or neglected.

On health, the Commission calls for the Mayor and boroughs to establish a London-wide strategic body for the NHS and social care in the capital with the power to manage clinical networks and joint planning of services. It also calls attention to London’s fragmented healthcare provision, both within the NHS and the boroughs, emphasising regular and ill-conceived reorganisations, which have led to little clarity on who is accountable for systemic coherence and delivery. The report recommends that deprivation funding is reintroduced to improve primary healthcare in disadvantaged areas.

‘On health policy in London, we are clear that it is now becoming urgent to tackle the major challenges that face London’s primary care system,’ said Travers at the launch. ‘The greater health devolution to London which we propose needs an accountable body, responsible for providing strategic oversight for London’s health needs across both primary and secondary care. By focusing on primary care, this will take the pressure off hospital A&Es, and give Londoners the health care they deserve.’

The devolution of health services to London was welcomed by the Mayor, who said, ‘We have already seen how devolving health powers has led to more joined-up services for Londoners – but providing the Mayoralty with strategic oversight of London’s health system will allow us to provide higher standards of care.’

London will suffer if skills shortage is not addressed

The report also presents crucial evidence on the failings of the post-16 non-university education system in London, proposing a new coordinating role for the Mayor of London and calling for the full and unconstrained devolution of the Adult Education Budget to London in 2019/20. In response, the Mayor emphasised that London has the lowest number of apprenticeships starts per head in the UK and said, ‘I want the power to ensure that all Londoners are provided with more and better opportunities in further education or as apprentices.’

The report warns, however, that the devolution of funding in itself is not enough, and recommends that a proportion of any unspent apprenticeship levy funds be allocated to the Mayor and boroughs to supplement skills funding in the capital. It suggests the establishment of an Apprenticeship Levy Council, chaired by the Mayor, with members from the boroughs, businesses and colleges, to advise companies on how to spend their levy.

Lord Adonis underlined this, saying: ‘Unless we make big strides in raising our level of skills training and provision of apprenticeships, London’s economy will be damaged and Londoners will lose out on the prosperity they have the right to expect.’ He believes that ‘early signs show that the new apprenticeship levy is not working well. Major skills shortages are very clear, especially in construction and digital. This can only be made worse by Brexit.’

Scenario planning for Brexit

The report provides in-depth analysis of the economic implications of Brexit on the capital, outlining four potential (and evocatively titled) scenarios:

  • Scenario 1, ‘Paris on Thames’, sees the UK becomes a more inward-looking economy, with higher trade barriers, a relatively weak currency, the loss of some businesses to the EU and reduced foreign investment.
  • Scenario 2, ‘1970s London’, warns of a ‘disorderly’ Brexit that sees some of London’s distinctive industries leaving, along with falls in foreign direct investment and international migration.
  • Scenario 3, ‘Modern Rome’, sees the UK maintain an outward-looking economy along with reasonable trading terms with the EU and free trade agreements with others.
  • Scenario 4, ‘Super city’, ensures London takes advantage of domestic and international success. The city continues to grow, assisted by increased devolution of tax and spending powers. Major transport and infrastructure projects go ahead. A strategy at a national level of low business taxes and deregulation leads to London enhancing its competitiveness.

For London to achieve its greatest potential – for the wider UK as well as the city itself – through to 2030 and beyond, the report advises policymakers, both in national and London government, to aim for scenario four. London thrives with an open, international economy and labour market and it is evident from the Commission’s research that anything other than this will limit the capital’s future growth and development.

Convening voices to respond to London’s challenges

Complex challenges require interdisciplinary thinking, and the convening of different voices to provoke new and imaginative responses. Universities have a key role to play: they can bring analytical thinking, evidence, impartiality and their convening capacity to the task, provoking and encouraging dialogue in partnership with city leaders and local communities.

In bringing together King’s academics with leading thinkers from across London’s policy, business and higher education sectors, this report demonstrates King’s commitment to work in partnership to improve the lives of Londoners, central to King’s Vision 2029 and our ambition to be a civic university at the heart of London.


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