Mayor Boris reshapes London’s legal landscape

Those of us old enough to remember ‘Red Ken’ Livingstone from the 1980s have been surprised at the longevity of his reincarnation as London’s mayor – but now he is gone, swept away by a tidal wave of anti-Labour sentiment.

Boris Johnson is the new captain at London’s helm and for the first time in the history of the mayoralty, Conservative principles inform the way in which London is to be governed. In his campaign for mayor Johnson developed his policies in separate manifestos, and his plans for business, housing and crime have some interesting implications for the legal profession at a time when two out of these three sectors are limping into recession.

Certainly, commercial lawyers will be interested by Johnson’s election pledge to thoroughly review all of the London Development Agency’s (LDA) expenditure. The LDA’s budget is £466.4m, of which Olympic Legacy spending constitutes £195.3m. One outcome of the review is likely to benefit small businesses and in particular their ability to access public sector contracts.

The Greater London Authority (GLA) Group, which incorporates the LDA, Transport for London, the Metropolitan Police Authority and the London Fire Brigade, issues procurement contracts worth around £5bn annually. Hitherto, small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have been discouraged from participating by the sheer weight of bureaucracy. Now procedures are to be simplified and entry-level requirements made less onerous.

In addition, in the field of commercial property development, Johnson has pledged to protect SMEs by amending the London Plan to ensure that a proportion of affordable units are secured for small independent retailers when approving retail developments. The latest survey of small shops in the capital found that the two biggest pressures they faced were competition from local supermarkets and rising rents – and some 7,000 have closed in the past six years.

Residential development will also be affected in the capital. The new mayor has pledged to release GLA-owned land and spend £130m launching a First Steps Housing Scheme which will be open to first-time buyers frozen out of Government schemes. Johnson will also invest £60m in schemes to renovate more than 84,000 empty properties in London.

One of the manifesto pledges that commanded significant media attention was Johnson’s promise to tackle crime on the streets, buses and trains. A total of £2.6m is to be allocated to fund hand-held scanners or knife archways at transport hubs to hinder the mobility of those who carry knives and guns. Somewhat overshadowed by this pledge, the new mayor has undertaken to make business crime a police priority. Crime in London is estimated to cost business £1.4bn a year, but much criminal activity is under-reported. Johnson will establish a non-emergency phone line to make reporting offences far easier.

It is unrealistic to expect Johnson’s election pledges to be fulfilled in the first 100 days. Apart from anything else, there are certain political limitations. For example, while the London mayor can wield significant influence by chairing the Metropolitan Police Authority, the ability to hire and fire the Metropolitan Police Commissioner rests with the Labour Home Secretary.

Superficially, there is a parallel between Johnson’s position today and that in 1981 when Livingstone was voted in as leader of the old GLC. But while Livingstone had to deal with a hostile Thatcher government until the abolition of the GLC in 1986, it is clear that the period in which Johnson works under a Labour administration will be comparatively short-lived.