‘Councils need more powers if London is to level up with the rest of the country,’ Camden leader tells government

Camden Council leader Georgia Gould. Photograph: Camden Council

Politicians must empower communities to thrive as part of the battle to reduce inequalities, Camden’s council leader has urged the government.

The borough has the fourth highest number of children living in low-income families in London, and life expectancy is up to 11 years higher in the least deprived wards.

Cllr Georgia Gould said politicians must give councils more powers and cash to help “make lasting change” as part of the government’s levelling up agenda.

The council leader said: “London is a great, dynamic, global city which has a big role to play in the UK’s economic recovery. But we also face huge challenges.

“There are thousands of communities living in poverty in London, who face serious barriers to finding work such as lack of digital skills or difficulty accessing the labour market.

“The economic impact of Covid-19 has hit London hard – our unemployment rate is the highest of any UK region.”

She is one of eight council leaders and mayors, including Manchester’s Andy Burnham, to share their demands in the Centre for Cities’ wish list ahead of the government’s white paper on levelling up.

White papers are policy documents produced by the government which set out their proposals for future legislation.

This one was announced in September’s Queen’s Speech as a response to the pandemic and the inequality it has laid bare.

The document “will focus on challenges including improving living standards, growing the private sector and increasing and spreading opportunity”.

Cllr Gould said the power of community, which comes to the fore in crises like the pandemic to support the most vulnerable, must be recognised.

“To make meaningful change, we must recognise the strength rooted within our communities and ensure ‘levelling up’ empowers them to thrive,” she said.

“Strengthening community and local leadership is essential if London is to level up with the rest of the country.

“Councils need increased powers and funding to make lasting change in the places and communities they represent. Only through greater devolution will we see greater opportunities to tackle deepening inequalities.”

The government has announced a £4.8bn levelling up fund. It will give £220m to councils to invest in their communities.

According to Camden Council, 39 per cent of children in the borough live in low-income families – compared to an average 19 per cent in London and 17 per cent across England and Wales.

Poverty and life expectancy is between 10 and 11 years lower for people living in the most deprived wards, including Gospel Oak, compared with those in the more affluent areas.

For those who do get onto the property ladder, the cost of housing is amongst the highest in London. According to council data, the average house price in Camden in March 2021 was £796,442 – three times the average price for
England and Wales and 1.6 times the average in the capital.

The 2011 census found that 32 per cent of families in Camden were overcrowded.

The borough also has a large social rented sector, with 23 per cent of households renting from the council and 10 per cent in other social rented accommodation. A further 32 per cent of households rent from private landlords.

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