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28 October 2014

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You are in: London > TV > Television > TV Features > The State of London

State of London debate

State of London debate at Westminster

The State of London

This week’s State of London debate was the first opportunity Londoners had to meet Mayor Boris Johnson and his two senior advisers, Ray Lewis and Munira Mirza. As Kurt Barling writes, the mood was one of high expectation

Westminster Methodist Hall was the venue for the first United Nations gathering in 1945.  The London debate last night probably reflected a greater diversity than that particular event.

An impressive turnout of a little over 2,000 Londoners, young and old, mixed gender, mixed ethnicity made for a boisterous and at times ill-tempered forum.  The audience were anything but timid.

The tone of the debate was set by its agenda; opportunities for young Londoners.  In his inimitable way the Mayor quoted the father of Western Philosophy, Plato (428-347 BC), as a lesson in dealing with our anxieties about young people.

"Making young people part of the solution rather than the problem is likely to be an empty mantra unless engaging young people is more meaningful"

Kurt Barling

Apparently in Plato’s time there was much concern about feckless youth, who failed to show respect for their elders and were prone to anti-social behaviour.   Mayor Johnson concluded that the tendency towards moral panic is as old as civilisation itself.

We, he added, are in danger of panicking and not recognising many of the positive attributes of young school age Londoners.

It was an observation appreciated by the audience.  But one which raised the hackles of those who had come along to press their case for funding initiatives which they claim are working but have been ignored by mainstream funding.

There is a danger with any new Mayoral administration that people believe they will be running round London with a bag of money to support all and sundry.   The current Mayor’s laudable promise to visit as many projects as possible may be courteous but also raising expectations to an unrealistic level.

Announcing his “Mayor’s Fund for London”, Johnson said that its primary responsibility would be to help provide additional resources from the private sector to support voluntary sector initiatives targeting young people. 

As yet there is no guidance on how much the private sector may be willing to commit (these are tough times for business).  But it certainly won’t be distributing any cash willy-nilly.

Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson addresses the audience

I attended a conference with a similar agenda last week.  There the central concern was offering an arts and culture legacy to young people in the wake of 2012.  I am struck by the similarity of the questions and the common critique of how London government is tackling the perceived problems with youth crime.

One of the best observations by young people in both places was:  if you are so concerned about what young people think why haven’t you got a young person on the panel?  Furthermore, if you want to know what young people want, shouldn’t public institutions adopt a more “bottom-up” as opposed to a “top-down” approach in order to understand how to engage young people.

In both venues that got the loudest and most enthusiastic applause.   The mantra of making young people part of the solution rather than the problem is likely to be an empty one unless the process of engaging young people is more meaningful.

Deputy Mayor for Young People Ray Lewis was at pains to dampen down expectations that all-comers would be funded through Mayoral largesse.   He said there will be a focus on spending money wisely and effectively; he talked about “finding the source of the leak, not just mopping up the water”.

As part of this approach Lewis made clear in this debate that he intends to make greater use of the existing London Against Gun and Knife Crime practitioners forum set up under the auspices of the Greater London Authority (GLA) a couple of years ago.  

Ray Lewis

Ray Lewis at Westminster Central Hall

The forum is aimed at trying to establish an audit of what is actually being done across the 32 London Boroughs to tackle this area of youth crime.  By knowing what is being done, says the chair of the forum Viv Ahmun, it is easier to establish best practice to target resources effectively.

The reality is that much of the work being carried out by organisations associated with this forum target those individuals who do the most damage.   Not to put too fine a point on it those most likely to turn into killers.   In that very tough environment the levels of competence and the capacity of individual practitioner or organisations to develop their work is not always self-evident.

One recent survey of young people involved in these types of project complained that the adults often lacked credibility in their eyes. 

In the spirit of openness to make young people part of the solution perhaps the new Mayor should consider a board of young people or some such forum to help London government to get a little closer to the younger audience. 
There is a danger in all this debate about what is wrong and what needs to be put right in missing out on what is already positive.   Many of the young people involved in the debate last night wanted to know how their voices are to be heard when they are engaged in productive activities that are faced with the financial chop.

Mayor Johnson acknowledged this in his address to the forum.  In it he said we must not forget the fundamental point that the overwhelming majority of children in London are law-abiding and productive. 

It may be obvious, but London institutions must target those young people who are already in trouble with the law but funds must also be available to support young people who just want to be involved in positive activities.

Ray Lewis will not want to throw the baby out with the bath water.

last updated: 27/06/2008 at 15:44
created: 27/06/2008

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