"I owe my fellow Board director, Jenna Goldberg, a profuse apology (rest assured, we do occasionally communicate more directly than through LDN editorials). She was clearly well-informed when she hinted at brighter days ahead. A Biden win (all bar the legals), a probable vaccine (we all hope) and share prices of many London focused property companies leaping (at least for a day) have all cheered us up during Week One of Lockdown Two. Meanwhile the Bank of England has announced third tranche of fiscal stimulus to help the economy cope with the pandemic – at £150bn, this brings the total to £450bn. That’s over 40 times what TfL’s spends annually (in a normal year) and the equivalent to the annual GDP of Belgium (in Euros).
At a more granular level in London, this week’s LDN covers the good, the bad and the ugly news on the resumed lockdown’s economic and social effects, a brace of people moves, and the latest on the fast-approaching May 2021 local elections. On which note, it’s worth mentioning that the second delay to the inquiry on the Croydon Tram Crash, which occurred four years ago this last Monday, means that its hearings are likely to coincide with the GLA elections period next Spring. Let’s hope for those who lost loved ones (seven died) and suffered injuries (62 did) that it doesn’t experience any further delay."
LCA Chairman Robert Gordon Clark
BREAKING NEWS: CROYDON ISSUES S114
Not long before before we went to print, several sources, including LBC and the BBC’s Tim Donovan reported that Croydon Council has issued a Section 114 notice - which is a declaration that it cannot balance its budget this year and that all new non-essential spending will be stopped. The council itself subsequently confirmed the reports. As we have reported previously in LDN, Croydon's finances have been strained to breaking point by a combination of factors, including a decade of austerity and the impact of Covid-19, while officers have been warning of this situation for a few months now. The situation had already led to the resignation and replacement of the Labour Council’s Leader, Chief Executive, and Cabinet Member for Finance. Last week, and after the Council's independent auditors' released a report which made for a sobering reading, the Communities Secretary announced a ‘rapid non-statutory review’ into the borough’s finances. We will be covering this latest development in more detail next week, but Croydon is the first local authority in England to issue a S114 notice since Northamptonshire County Council in 2018 and the only London authority in this position at the moment. The situation will be discussed at a full council meeting in the next 21 days and it is likely that the borough will look to government for financial support.
Barely a week into its second full lockdown, London's economy is already feeling the strain. Last Friday, the Financial Times provided a grim snapshot of a newly-shuttered Square Mile, while the Evening Standard painted a bleak picture of the West End over the weekend. Nevertheless, Tuesday’s announcement of substantial progress towards a vaccine gives us all hope, while today’s extension of automatic freedom for restaurants, pubs and cafes to provide takeaway services until March 2022 is also a positive move for a sector of London’s economy that is among the hardest hit. The Mayor of London and London Councils have meanwhile written to the Communities Secretary, lobbying for an extension to the business rates holiday (due to end in March 2021) and other measures to help retail, leisure and hospitality businesses that have - again - been deprived of customers. Doing their bit, London Assembly Members ratcheted up the pressure on the Mayor to present a long-term plan for the city’s economic recovery, during a plenary session where they grilled Deputy Mayor for Business Rajesh Agrawal, Deputy Mayor for Planning, Regeneration and Skills Jules Pipe, and Cllr Georgia Gould, leader of Camden Council and Chair of London Councils.
OF LONDON HQs
This second flight of workers from Central London has reignited the debate about the very future of office-working (and property investment) as we know it. As if on cue, it was reported that oil and gas giant BP is close to selling its global headquarters at 1 St James’s Square for £250m. And yet, many insist that this is not nearly the ‘death of the office’ – and are putting their money where their mouth is. Hong Kong-based Tenacity has just submitted plans for a new 33-storey tower in the City; Derwent London last week committed to plans including 200,000 sq ft of office floorspace on Baker Street; and despite a tough year, LCA client Landsec remains confident that demand for office space will remain robust in the longer term, even if the kind of offices in demand will surely evolve. Look at Unilever, which last month announced plans for a brand-new HQ in leafy Kingston-upon-Thames, where it will consolidate teams from offices across London and Surrey, while retaining a foothold at its current ‘downtown’ Victoria Embankment headquarters.
CULTURE STRIKES BACK
Meanwhile, another key industry for London that has taken a kicking is… kicking back. After previous investors backed out, Barking and Dagenham Council has now entered a new agreement with US-based Hackman Capital Partners (HCP) to build Eastbrook Studios, a new TV and film production centre. The plans for up to 12 sound stages and three acres of backlot and office space, have already secured planning permission and are supported by the Mayor. Construction is set to start in 2021 and the studios should be operational in 2023. As reported by The Guardian, these are not the only new filming facilities planned in the UK. Also, back in London, plans have been unveiled for the installation of ‘the world’s largest digital canvas’ as part of the redevelopment of the Denmark Street area, near Tottenham Court Road tube station. Outernet Global’s planned 2,000 sq m, 360-degree screens will be home to artwork curated by Marco Brambilla, who has commissioned work by Marina Abramović for the display. There’s also good news for arts organisations rooted in their local communities: a partnership between the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and Kings College London have opened submissions for a new award celebrating the civic role of arts organisations in society.
SPORT CARRIES ON
There's also some positive news from the world of sport. Despite Covid-19, progress has been made towards realising plans for the redevelopment of Selhurst Park, after Croydon Council and the Mayor of London approved the terms of a S106 agreement with Crystal Palace F.C. The plans will see the stadium’s capacity increase from 26,000 to 34,000. On the subject of new stadiums, Wimbledon AFC played their first match in their new Plough Lane home on 4 November, almost 30 years after the club left Merton. Though this will serve as a boost to the club, they are currently in a row with the FA over… who won the 1988 FA Cup. Meanwhile, in the Commons, MPs recently debated a petition (which has now reached over 199,000 signatures) on permitting spectators to attend football matches across all levels of the sport following the raising of restrictions on 2 December. The Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee has also launched an inquiry into the future of Championship and lower league clubs.
Newham’s Deputy Leader and cabinet member for housing, Cllr John Gray, has stepped down from Cabinet. Cllr Charlene McLean has been appointed as Statutory Deputy Mayor, while Cllr Shaban Mohammed has been appointed Cabinet lead for Housing Services.
Former Islington Mayor Cllr Rakhia Ismail has defected from Labour to the Conservatives.
City AM Editor Christian May has announced he will be leaving the newspaper. He is to be succeeded by Andy Silvester.
Mick Cash, General Secretary of the RMT transport union, has announced his retirement, blaming a ‘campaign of harassment’ from groups within the union.
One of London’s most iconic retailers, Fortnum & Mason has appointed Tom Athron to replace current CEO Ewan Venters. Athron will start in his new role on 1 December.
The Prime Minister is reportedly planning to appoint his Director of Communications Lee Cain as his Chief of Staff.
LOCKED DOWN AND LOCKED OUT?
The announcement of a second lockdown has necessitated immediate action to support the housing needs of the most vulnerable, but initiatives by Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick have received a mixed responses. The announcement of a new £15m national ‘Protect Programme’, launched to help provide accommodation for rough sleepers, self-consciously underlined that this (rather paltry) allocation is only meant to top up a range of other programmes and funding commitments. London Councils has estimated that even accounting for this latest boost, London boroughs’ homelessness and rough sleeping budgets alone still face a shortfall of £13m this year. Housing charities Crisis and Shelter have also warned that the funding is not nearly enough on a nationwide basis. The Government also announced a fresh ban on the enforcement of eviction notices ‘until 11 January 2021 at the earliest, except for the most egregious cases such as anti-social behaviour.’ While the National Residential Landlords’ Association (NRLA) seems to have tentatively welcomed the move, housing charities are warning that even the more wide-ranging evictions ban implemented previously saw far too many people falling through the cracks. As per new statistics highlighted by Shelter, the proportion of private renters nationwide claiming housing benefit has risen from 31% of households in February, to 42% in August.
MHCLG UNDER A MICROSCOPE?
Indeed, the work Robert Jenrick’s department, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), seems to be the subject of ever-more scrutiny. The Commons' Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee has launched a survey seeking the views of the public on the current planning system. This is connected with, but separate from the Committee’s ongoing inquiry into the future of the planning system, as part of which an oral evidence session took place on 9 November. Meanwhile, the Commons' Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has published a rather damning report into MHCLG’s management of the £3.6bn Town Fund, as well as launched an inquiry into ‘a range of current issues in the Department’s remit’ including ‘the recently announced major planning reforms.’ Beyond Parliament, the Government’s Planning for the future White Paper continues to garner mostly negative reactions: a recent letter to the Financial Times by several high-profile sector representatives and experts, has urged the Government not to ‘tear down’ the planning system. And only today, the Affordable Housing Commission has published the results of a survey asking social landlords what they think of the Government's proposed planning reforms (spoiler alert: they're not impressed).
WITH SIX MONTHS TO GO...
We are now only slightly less than six months (176 days, to be precise) from the elections for the London Mayor and Assembly, plus other local government elections across England, on 6 May 2021. The Cabinet Office is reportedly ‘adamant’ on proceeding with these elections, even if some areas are forced to tackle a backlog of elections amidst an ongoing public health emergency. In London, the Mayoral and Assembly elections are to coincide with by-elections for at least 10 vacant seats across six boroughs, while two boroughs are due to hold governance referendums.
VOTING ON HOW MANY MAYORS?
That’s right, two borough-level referendums are to be held on the future of the relevant councils' directly-elected Mayors, in addition to the citywide election for a Mayor of London. We have already reported that Newham is to hold a referendum, giving residents a choice between the current directly-elected Mayor model and the Committee System. It has now been announced by neighbouring Tower Hamlets’ directly-elected Mayor John Biggs that Labour councillors have supported his proposal for a referendum on 6 May, offering a choice between the current system and a Leader and Cabinet model. That proposal remains to be ratified formally by a Full Council meeting.
CHECK YOUR FACTS
But back to the race for Mayor of London, Conservative candidate Shaun Bailey has scored a couple of wins, but also raised a few eyebrows. He'll be pleased to have been interviewed by… David Walliams for a glossy GQ feature, as well as to have gained the backing of former Islington Mayor and Labour defector Cllr Rakhia Ismail. However, Bailey has also come under fire for his campaign’s https://www.tflbailoutfacts.com/ website, with independent fact-checkers and journalists, as well as trade unions and of course the Mayor all calling foul. Meanwhile, (perhaps inspired by the Biden campaign’s successes across the pond), the Labour Party is again encouraging people to register for an early postal vote. As for the Liberal Democrats, Mayoral candidate Luisa Porritt spoke to OnLondon last week, arguing that she is uniquely focused on the city’s long-term future.
FESTIVAL OF PLACE
LCA were pleased to be the communications partner for Festival of Place – a two week programme of fascinating seminars including some rarely heard from speakers. Board Director and LDN editor Jenna Goldberg chaired an event on the future of the workplace – did you know that 30% of Londoners are currently sleeping and working in the same room – in which the consensus was that a hybrid office/home model is what the future holds for many of us. Meanwhile, our Managing Director Jonny Popper chaired an event about the future of retail and the high streets, which called for bolder action from local authorities and the Government to help ensure a much broader mix of uses in high street environments. Looking ahead to the last two days of the Festival, we are keeping our fingers crossed for LCA clients shortlisted for the Pineapple Awards, whose winners will be announced on Friday!
LCA prides itself on its intelligence-led approach to PR and communications and our dedicated research team monitors London politics, news and issues as it happens. If you would like to know more about LCA or anything in this edition of LDN – London in short please get in touch.
LDN is put together by a dedicated team at London Communications Agency. The content for each edition is developed from news drawn from the last week from every London local paper as well as the regional and national press, from intelligence gathered by monitoring local, regional and national government activity and from the insight and expert knowledge of the entire LCA team.
If you would like to know more about anything covered in this or any other edition of LDN or if you would like to know more about LCA please contact Duncan Hepburn on 020 7612 8480 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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