Today 397,000 Londoners are unemployed and looking for a job. As a region, we have the lowest level of skills in the workforce, based on NVQ Level 1 and above. And the problems are getting worse, as we fail to recover fast enough from the cardiac arrest that Labour’s last years in office dealt to the national economy.
Not a pretty picture for our great capital city, powerhouse (so we keep saying) of the whole UK economy.
In fact, weren’t the Olympics meant to help drive forward our economy? A couple of news stories from July sum up for me what’s wrong with the London economy.
Only one in ten of the people employed on the Olympic site were previously unemployed and only a quarter live in the five neighbouring boroughs where deprivation is among the highest in London.
Meanwhile more than 10,000 people applied for just 750 jobs at the new John Lewis store scheduled to open in the new Westfield shopping centre at Stratford.
So the employment picture in London is clear: plenty of people looking for work but they have too few of the right skills; not enough entry-level jobs; not enough training for the available work; and not enough targeting of help where it’s most needed.
The business picture is clear too: lots of focus on our ‘world class’ financial services sector and not enough on the small business sector nor on where the sustainable wealth-creating jobs of the future are going to come from.
And from our Mayor – who has a legal duty to set the economic development strategy for London – we hear far more about cutting personal tax rates for the City fat cats than on challenging the banks to lend to small firms.
In fact Boris Johnson did go to the City when he set up his Mayor’s Fund to get philanthropic donations for charity projects. But where’s the Mayor’s Fund for jobs and business – getting the banks to invest long term debt or equity in SMEs and the green industries of the future? Why not a Green Investment Bank for London? What about jobs from a massive home insulation programme?
And Boris Johnson has talked a lot about apprenticeships – claiming credit for more than 20,000 (although only 2,000 are in GLA agencies and contractors directly, and many of those are existing opportunities represented). But where’s the ambition to get hold of our share of the £4 billion skills budget from national government, sit the big employers round the table with the FE colleges and training providers, and get the fundamental mismatch between skills and jobs sorted out?
I say we need a mayor with ambition for London, who will do the things Boris Johnson isn’t doing.
I go further and say that big firms should put their procurement on Compete4, the database set up for the Olympics to help small firms bid for contracts. Large companies should give priority to local purchasing, where it makes sense, to keep buying power in the London economy.
Nationally the business secretary, Vince Cable, says we need to go beyond cutting the deficit and also invest in growing the economy – what he calls Plan-A-Plus. Unfortunately in London we have a classic laissez-faire Conservative Mayor with no vision for a GLA that intervenes to get the economy moving.
That’s bad enough now. But with new powers over business rates, development tax and borrowing coming to London next year, we need a Mayor with real ambition. Until then, ordinary Londoners will go on paying a heavy price in rising unemployment and low skill jobs.
Mike Tuffrey AM speaks for the Liberal Democrats at City Hall on housing, planning and finance and is running to be LibDem candidate for Mayor of London.