London is the greatest city in the world. We are ambitious, creative, open-minded and outward looking – a truly international city that’s not only at ease with its diversity, but immensely proud of it. Despite being largely – and frustratingly – reliant on national government for most of our funding, our success illustrates the huge impact that local leadership can have and highlights why we should receive more powers and resources to govern our city in the interests of Londoners.
The decisions we take in City Hall, our collaboration with borough councils and the empowerment and assistance we give to community leaders set the tone for our city – we need to work in partnership at the local and city-wide level to ensure all the levers of power we have are utilised.
By working together and finding innovative solutions to the big challenges we face, we are able to take action on the biggest problems of our time – from tackling air pollution and climate change to investing in genuinely affordable housing and efficient, affordable public transport.
For example, London is leading the country – and the world – in taking bold action to address toxic air pollution. In April we launched the world’s first Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in central London. This is the world’s toughest emission standard and is operating in central London seven days a week, 365 days a year. We know that our toxic air is an invisible killer that is responsible for one of the biggest national health emergencies of our generation, and we know it will take national and global cooperation to fix. Despite knowing that, we can’t solve the problem alone, we’ve stepped up to tackle the challenge head-on, demonstrating what can be achieved when the political will is there.
We are sharing information on the policy process that led to the implementation of the ULEZ with other cities who want to act on a local level to clean up their toxic air. As more and more cities learn from and adopt our approach, I’m confident the ULEZ will come to be seen as an example of local leadership driving global change.
We’re also showing the benefit of local leadership on another global health problem – child obesity. This is another issue that is putting the long-term future of our young people at risk and placing huge pressure on our already strained health service. I’m committed to doing all I can to help Londoners make healthy food choices for themselves and their families and, know that through concerted and evidenced-based local action, we can achieve this. For example, we’re empowering local councils through the London Plan to restrict new fast- food outlets from opening close to schools and have worked with Transport for London (TfL) to ban junk food advertising on the entire TfL network. In a city as prosperous and diverse as London, people should be able to make informed choices about what to eat and what to feed their families, and through public policy we can help to change that.
London is renowned throughout the world as a beacon for diversity and inclusion. We’re home to every nationality and every ethnicity, every culture and every creed, and I’m determined that who you are or where you come from must have no bearing on what you can achieve in our city. It’s vital that we stay true to this progressive tradition and continue to nurture it by setting an example at City Hall and across the capital for how Londoners from all backgrounds can lead and shape life in our city. I regularly meet with representatives of our communities to listen to them about their needs and concerns and to support them in the work they do. Our diverse communities make a huge contribution to life in the capital – we’ve seen how our faith communities support Londoners in need, we’ve seen our team of volunteers help put on events that bring Londoners together, and we’ve seen groups of people from all walks of life and different generations unite to fight ignorance and intolerance.
I’m also passionate about breaking down the barriers that divide us and focusing on ways we can bring Londoners together. I think it’s important that local government leads by example on this. That’s why I published City Hall’s first-ever ethnicity pay audit, made all recruitment completely anonymised, rolled out unconscious bias training, established a Diversity and Inclusion Management Board, and ensured that my team of deputy mayors are representative of our city. By taking this action – and raising awareness of the benefits – we can encourage others in the public and private sectors to do the same, advancing the values of pluralism and equality we hold dear.
Our diverse communities make a huge contribution to life in the capital.
When we think about London’s breathtaking diversity there is no escaping the fact that Brexit is causing worry and anxiety for one group in particular – our city’s one million EU citizens. These citizens are Londoners. They are critical to the success of our city and they will always be welcome and valued. We are doing all we can to help EU Londoners navigate the uncertainty caused by Brexit. We have been providing crucial advice and guidance to help them sign up for settled status and we have successfully lobbied for the settled status fee to be dropped. It is crucial that City Hall continues to show that London remains open to the world: open to business, ideas, investment, trade and open to talent.
As people are increasingly engaged in global issues and wanting to act locally to affect global change, the power of local leadership is being recognised and people are demanding greater devolution and a bigger say. Mayors and other local government actors are able to be more agile and responsive to the needs of their citizens than national governments, and can increasingly lead the way on global challenges. As the former president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Wellington Webb, said “The 19th century was a century of empires, the 20th century, a century of nation states. The 21st century will be a century of cities.”
Sadiq Khan is the Mayor of London