For someone who promised to be the most pro business Mayor of London ever, Sadiq Khan’s credentials have taken a huge knock with TfL’s outright ban on Uber following their decision not to renew Uber’s licence at the end of this month.
He was divorced from the actual decision, but he has shown woeful, judgement by rushing to both support the ban, and condemn Uber. I have written before about the Londoners eventually tiring of Khan’s cynicism as he dumped one pledge after another, but his response to the Uber ban is in a class of its own.
What’s more he could have prevented this from happening by recognising the value of Uber to 3 and half million Londoners and bringing them to the table to get their act together to meet the standards we all want to see. His inaction has not served London well.
Instead he has rushed to support the decision and by doing so has shown a profound misunderstanding about London’s reputation as a tech friendly, innovative world business centre, the pressing needs for competitive transport for Londoners, and those 40,000 drivers who rely on Uber to supplement or provide their main income.
At a stroke he has foolishly undermined London’s night time economy, made it more expensive for 3 and a half million Londoners to travel, and put at risk the city’s reputation as being open for business. The unanswered question is why?
During Khan’s election campaign journalists never tired of hearing him remind them that “As someone who helped to run and grow a business before becoming an MP, I know the challenges many in the business community face and the importance of politicians working closely with business,”.
That the reasons given for withholding the licence from Uber can be summarised as compliance issues, namely that Uber did not demonstrate sufficient corporate social responsibility in its approach to reporting serious criminal offences, obtaining medical and criminal record checks and because of concerns about its approach to explaining the use of software that hindered regulatory and law enforcement duties, suggests that these failings can and should be addressed urgently.
Indeed they are serious, but as Khan should know, given he is a lawyer, in an appeal against TfL’s decision a court would have the opportunity to decide if their decision to withhold the licence was proportionate.
John Martyn, senior associate at Howard Kennedy makes that case convincingly, so whilst London’s reputation suffers, costly legal challenges for both TfL and Uber will get underway. Given the scale of the impact on employees alone it is by no means certain that the ban would be upheld.
What beggars belief, is that our self proclaimed experienced businessman and lawyer, Mayor Khan, did not recognise the Uber issues were such that he could have worked with them to put right.
Agreed, they have been very slow to respond to past criticisms, but it is Khan who told us before the election that he knows politicians should work closely with business. He didn’t. Instead he has allowed TfL to reach for the nuclear option and by doing so signalled his own ineptitude and harmed London’s reputation.
The cost of Khan’s misjudgment is that he has targeted the pockets of those least able to afford it.
The cost of living is absurdly high in London and at least Uber offered the opportunity of much cheaper private hire taxi on a massive scale. The night time economy, allegedly so important to this Mayor, will take a knock since we are a long way away from all night public transport being either suitable or available for all.
Khan, who has robustly endorsed the Uber ban will now watch helplessly as a greater share of night time economy money going into more expensive forms of transport and less into the clubs, theatres, restaurants and entertainment venues. Three and half million people locked out of a consumer choice is a sure way to undermine his own night time economy policy.
But it is not all about those that both use the service and the reported 40,000 that work under Uber. By submitting to his union paymasters and the very effective effective black cab lobby, he has presided over an extraordinary hit on London’s reputation as a forward thinking tech city, by shutting down one of the most well known business disruptors of this century.
Having failed to negotiate a settlement of the failings of Uber since taking office and using if necessary the threat to withhold a licence until the issues had been resolved, he has failed to do his job. Even if, with the benefit of hindsight, the Mayor realises quite what he has done, London will have taken a reputational knock by the man who is in charge of the city’s bid to be seen post Brexit, not just open for business, but hungry for innovators and investors.
It is becoming increasingly clear, that in his attempts to re-build his reputation and standing with the Labour Party leadership having done so much to distance himself from them both during his Mayoral election campaign and before the General Election, he is prepared to pander to the interests of the Union barons, in particular the GMB who are delighted with the TfL ban on Uber.
His enthusiastic endorsement of the decision contrasts with his abject failure to level the playing field between black cabs who are heavily regulated, and the excesses of the liberal private hire Uber model. Had he done that he would have provided a solution that would have worked for Londoners, protected the cities reputation and protected jobs.
His enthusiastic support for this ban,so soon after his caving in to the RMT shows we must expect more of the same as Londoners needs are put second to the unions, and Jeremy Corbyns Labour party. It is an ominous sign of what type of London we may have as it becomes the testing ground for a socialist experiment.
Nick de Bois was MP for Enfield North 2010-2015 and is now an advisory board member to Kids Count. Follow him at @nickdebois
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