This week I attended Mayor’s Question Time at City Hall, to find out what Sadiq Khan has been up to lately. It was a packed room for the first hour, though people started to trickle out once they realized the question and answer session would likely continue through lunchtime.
The Mayor kicked things off by providing an update on what he has been working on, keeping things brief in his allotted 5 minutes. He mentioned an number of initiatives and accomplishments, including securing London Living Wage for TfL and GLA employees, opening the Night Tube, and working with The Metropolitan Police to create a “more collaborative and effective strategy” to keep Londoners safe.
Touching upon the topic of the environment, which would become a running theme throughout the session, he mentioned that the recent air quality consultation had received a record number of responses, and new actions were being taken to address air quality issues across the capital. Lastly, he stated that he prefers the expansion of Gatwick over Heathrow, suggesting that it would send “a positive signal to the world that London – and Britain – is open.” This kicked off the first round of questions about airport expansion, and was the first of many references to London being “open.” Many of the questions that followed focused on transport, environmental, and economic issues. Few mentions of planning or housing were made, though much of the discussion related back to Mr Khan’s wider plans for London’s development.
The first question of the day was about the potential expansion of Gatwick or Heathrow airport. The Mayor provided few details on this topic in his address – which the Chair, Tony Arbour, made note of in his line of questions. He wanted to know further details about funding for airport expansion and who will be employed to work on this, but, much to Mr Arbour’s dissatisfaction, Mr Khan did not have many answers for him. The Mayor seems to be playing a bit of a waiting game on the airport expansion, as the Government is due to make a decision on it next week. Until then, Mr Arbour’s questions will remain unanswered.
The next question started another fairly lengthy conversation, and yet again there were several questions that the Mayor was not ready to answer at this stage. The question was in regards to the river crossings, which include the Silvertown Tunnel, a pedestrian and cyclist bridge in Canary Wharf, and a DLR extension to Thamesmead. Despite some scepticism from his colleagues, the Mayor pledged to continue (or start) to work with the effected East London boroughs on these projects to make sure their voices are being heard.
It seemed odd that the Question Time session had gotten this far without a mention of Brexit – however, that didn’t last long. A question came up about the possibility of a post-Brexit work visa system for London, to help retain international talent in the capital. Mr Khan emphasized the importance of access to talent from abroad, especially from Europe, and once again returned to his rhetoric about London needing to remain open. The Confederation of Business Industry and the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry are both working on proposals for a London visa. While he waits for these plans to come forward, the Mayor was hesitant to say anything else about the plans, given that it would ultimately be up to the Government to work out the post-Brexit visa system.
This discussion was followed by one about residents’ rights, and the importance of cracking down on rogue landlords at a London- and Borough-wide level. There was also a discussion about scholarships for students in the arts, and an interesting conversation about entrepreneurship in the capital, which Mr Khan commended. He also added to the entrepreneurship topic that he would like to see more female-led start-ups, and wants to explore options to support this goal (which, as a female-led small business, we were very pleased to hear).
Clearly, this round of Question Time spanned a wide range of issues, some more contentious than others. The audience started off captivated, and many were entertained by the dynamic between Mr Khan and some of the GLA members, particularly those who were not afraid to be blunt with him about answering their questions. While he has clearly made several accomplishments thus far, Mr Khan definitely has a lot of work ahead of him. However, much of this work seems to be dependent upon the work of others coming first, in order to help him make some more substantial decisions. This will require more collaboration between the GLA and Government, and the GLA and the London boroughs – but, the Mayor seems willing and able to work on this moving forward. Needless to say, it will be interesting to see how the rest of his time as Mayor plays out, and whether or not he will be able to give some more substantial answers at the next Question Time.