Six months of Sadiq Khan as London Mayor: the verdict so far

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It is six months since Sadiq Khan swept to victory in the mayoral race with pledges on transport, housing and opportunity for all. Pippa Crerar analyses his record so far

Sadiq Khan marked six months at City Hall today by renewing his election vow that he would do everything in his power to give Londoners the same opportunities he had.

The Mayor said he was proud to have already delivered on promises, such as a boost in neighbourhood policing and delivering the Night Tube, but admitted there was much more to do.

He said there was “no magic wand” to solving complicated problems such as the housing crisis, which was his principal election pledge. But the bus driver’s son, who grew up on a council estate, was upbeat about his ability to “turn these challenges around”.

He told the Standard: “Six months ago at Southwark Cathedral, the day after I was elected Mayor, I promised always to do everything in my power to ensure that all Londoners get the same opportunities that our city gave to me when I was growing up. That will be a central theme of my mayoralty.

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Sadiq Khan was boosted by the launch of the Night Tube (REUTERS)

“We have already achieved a huge amount over the last six months — real achievements I’m proud to point to and say, ‘We did that.’ But there is so much more still to do. Many problems we face, like the housing crisis and skills shortage, are complicated and entrenched. We need to be honest that we won’t be able to fix them overnight — there is no magic wand. It will be a marathon not a sprint. But I am so looking forward to continuing to work with every part of London life over the months and years ahead to turn these challenges around and make them opportunities for our great city instead.”

Mr Khan’s profile has been boosted since his election victory against Tory Zac Goldsmith, which transformed him into a global symbol of London’s diversity and integration. He is regularly mentioned as a viable future leadership candidate by moderate Labour MPs depressed at the state of their party.

He was a powerful voice during the EU referendum campaign and continues to argue for London to get a seat at the table during Brexit negotiations. However, his critics argue that the inevitable focus on Brexit — and the uncertainty created — will allow him to escape delivering some key priorities.

Professor Tony Travers of the London School of Economics said: “He has proved sure-footed and has been highly visible, quickly becoming almost as famous as his predecessor [Boris Johnson]. And lucky: Labour at Westminster’s internal strife has made him the party’s most electable leading standard-bearer, while Brexit provides cover if any manifesto targets are missed.”

Gareth Bacon, Tory group leader on the London Assembly, rejected attempts to paint Mr Khan as “a Mayor for all Londoners” and said: “Unfortunately, when you look closer, it is clear he has done far less than he would claim, with a series of ill-thought-out policies and a litany of broken promises.

“He has broken major election pledges and has been accused of avoiding scrutiny from the London Assembly. I sincerely hope the Mayor spends his next six months thinking hard about sensible policies for London and actually delivers on some of the things he has promised.”

Housing/Planning

Ever since Mr Khan pledged that the mayoral race would be a “referendum on the housing crisis” he has been under pressure to build thousands more affordable homes, and fast. After initially suggesting an 80,000-a-year target, he rowed back to 50,000 and eventually dumped numerical targets completely. Now he is focusing on what type of homes are built, rather than how many, and making sure 50 per cent are genuinely affordable. Critics claim this quota has already been downgraded, but in fact he has pushed up affordability on some developments, and is still aiming for half on all new housing projects which start under his mayoralty. Plans to support renters are proving tough to deliver as most powers rest with central government, but his London Living Rent and “first dibs” for Londoners are important small steps. He launched a “no night out” taskforce to reverse the rise in rough sleeping and an inquiry into the effect of foreign buyers on the housing market. His Homes for Londoners team’s long-awaited planning guidance this autumn will put more flesh on the bones of his housing priorities, but time is tight.

Economy

He promised to be the most “business friendly mayor London has ever seen” and so far the City and the capital’s businesses seem impressed. Mr Khan has been banging the drum for London at home and abroad — already taking his #londonisopen campaign to Canada and the US with more trips planned. He has been leading the charge for more infrastructure investment — ensuring the capital does not miss out to other parts of the country in the current climate — and looks set to win more powers over skills and training. He has launched City Hall’s first gender pay audit, hoping other organisations will follow. By far his biggest success is showing leadership during the EU referendum campaign and afterwards as the capital, which voted overwhelmingly to Remain, prepares for Brexit. He has argued that London’s voice must be heard in negotiations — including on the single market and EU workers already here — and warned that a “hard” Brexit could harm the whole economy. It has also been a platform for calls for the devolution of more powers over public services and some taxes.

Environment

Although not known for being a passionate advocate of green issues — Mr Khan backed Heathrow expansion until his selection last year — he has proposed one of the most ambitious plans to tackle air pollution anywhere in the world. This includes consulting on a new “T-charge” of £10 a day for the worst-polluting vehicles to drive into central London from next year and bringing forward the central London Ultra Low Emission Zone by one year to 2019 and extending it London-wide for lorries, buses and coaches from 2020. He wants a national diesel scrappage scheme and to keep some vehicle excise duty to improve roads. Beyond that, his record is more mixed. He withdrew City Hall’s opposition to City Airport buying public land to expand. He ripped up a promise to plant two million street trees and has a new goal of 450,000. He ruled out building on green belt land, and has blocked planning applications, but his comment that it was “horses for courses” set the hares running. And although motorists applauded plans for new river crossings in east London, environmentalists were less happy they included a road tunnel.

Crime and Policing

The Mayor put neighbourhood policing at the heart of plans to tackle crime and his first announcement was that there would be an extra dedicated police officer in every ward in London by next year. He hosted a knife crime summit and has so far backed the Met’s use of stop and search even though he experienced it as a young man. But he has been unafraid of showing the police who is boss, and Met Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe has quit on his watch. While City Hall insists that he was not pushed out the pair had several public spats, including over spit hoods. Mr Khan has long been a powerful voice on tackling extremism and has appointed London’s first deputy mayor for social integration. He launched a major review into terror preparedness which suggested more mobile security barriers around government buildings and warnings sent straight to Londoners’ phones. He believes there is an upper limit to the number of armed police there should be on London’s streets and wants the Met to be more reflective of the city it represents, taking legal advice on how far he can push positive discrimination in recruiting trainees.

Transport

A key manifesto pledge that Londoners “won’t pay a penny more” on fares for four years ran into trouble when Sadiq Khan was forced to clarify that he only meant Transport for London fares. Pleas for the Government to follow suit on overground rail have so far fallen on deaf ears. It has also resisted calls for devolution of suburban routes.

There is a huge task ahead balancing the books as TfL will lose its general grant from government next year. Aides promise that his numbers all add up. A couple of early wins with the long-awaited Night Tube at weekends and the introduction of the Hopper pay-as-you-go bus fare, which allows a passenger to make a second journey free of charge within one hour. Cycling has slipped down the priority list — he is yet to appoint a cycling czar — but the Mayor has approved the next two cycle superhighways and launched a safer lorries standard.

There are also plans to make the TfL behemoth more efficient — merging engineering functions, promoting its commercial side and bearing down on pay and perks.  Mr Khan’s “zero strike” pledge was broken by September, with the threat of Christmas strikes. His review of ticket office closures pleased the unions, but is largely redundant as almost all have shut.

Mr Khan is determined to make the private hire industry safer and is unafraid to take on Uber.