Samuel Kasumu is running to be the next Conservative Mayor of London. He was Special Advisor to the Prime Minister for Civil Society & Communities under Boris Johnson.
I was born in St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, and grew up in the London borough of Barnet. My upbringing was humble and one recognisable to many Londoners. Wealth surrounded me but I lived in poverty. Whilst London is the financial services powerhouse of the UK, it simultaneously has the most disparities when it comes to consumer access to financial products. This is what I call the London Paradox.
It has become ‘politically uncool’ to remind the country that London matters. That its success is pivotal to how well the rest of the country does. That levelling-up needs a strong capital, and that any hope of a high-wage, high-skill, economy originates from London trailblazing the way and setting the example.
This landscape is particularly important given the nature of London’s socioeconomic inequality, the circumstances of which create a substantial risk of financial vulnerability. It has the highest rate of child poverty in England, with the borough of Tower Hamlets alone recording a 56 per cent rate. Within inner London, official DWP data for last year showed general poverty rates were eight percent higher than England overall, standing at 30 per cent. It is worrying to note that despite significant intervention by the Treasury to help the population, the unemployment benefit claimant rate during the pandemic was highest in neighbourhoods with the most minority ethnic residents.
Londoners face a rise in living costs, coupled with a unique relationship to environmental issues compared to the rest of the UK. The Mayor of London expanded the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in 2021, with further ambitions to expand in 2023. Despite the important aim of reducing carbon emissions, the Zone’s consequences for London’s residents are profound. The cost of ULEZ for non-compliant cars, combined with the congestion charge and low emissions zone costs, saw the Mayor raise a total of nearly £800 million according to the last Transport for London accounts.
It is entirely unrealistic to suggest, as the Mayor has done, that there are affordable second-hand alternatives to current vehicles. During the pandemic, it is precisely the vehicles in the used car market that soared in value – 32 per cent over 24 consecutive months. Some used models have increased in value by over 50 per cent, such as the SEAT Alhambra and Ford S-Max. The average motorist will have seen their used car increase in value by £4,400, demonstrating that it is simply unfeasible to pursue the expansion of ULEZ at this time.
Furthermore, the Scrappage Scheme introduced by the Mayor to help disabled people and low-income individuals with ULEZ vehicle switching is now defunct. This originally offered a £2,000 grant to help individuals scrap their non-compliant cars, with the aim of transitioning to vehicles aligned with ULEZ standards. However, the scheme is closed to all new applications having exhausted its £61 million allocation and its efficacy is very questionable. Transport for London statistics suggested that as of 8th November 2021, only 9,370 of the 23,300 applications were accepted, with only 7,600 being paid out.
Such inadequacies leave thousands of individuals with no support and consign the scheme to failure. Given that an expanded ULEZ will encompass millions of additional Londoners, the prospect of future support of a similar nature appears decidedly unlikely. It is therefore essential for the Mayor to pause any expansion plans of the ULEZ and to relaunch the car Scrappage Scheme.
Why do I say all of this? I believe that the Conservative Party needs to find its voice once again in London. A voice that is strong on our core principles of tackling crime and eliminating waste but is also unapologetic about finding practical policy solutions for confronting climate change, and is positive about building new homes and inspiring social cohesion.
Since I left my role as Special Advisor to the Prime Minister, I have had time to consider what is needed for us to begin the daunting task of re-establishing the Conservative Party as a dominant force in London. This is why I intend to seek the nomination to become the Conservative Party candidate during the next London mayoral election. I look forward to making the case in the months ahead.