Jury is out on London Mayor’s commitment to design

Lynda Relph-Knight

We may swear by change as a generator for creativity, but the huge shifts currently underway at the London Development Agency leave a slightly uncomfortable feeling about the future of design in the capital (see News Analysis, page 9).

The uncertainty over the fate of the LDA’s creative industries and innovation design teams may be short-lived, given its assurances that any cuts will be announced next month. The fact that those teams don’t appear to have come under the scrutiny of London Mayor Boris Johnson could mean that they are safe.

But the main concern is an apparent lack of strategy for design – or the creative industries – in the mayoral plan. Reports suggest that Johnson’s main focus to date has been on cost-cutting rather than on programmes to enhance London’s cultural and economic standing on the global stage.

Whatever the shortcomings of Johnson’s predecessor Ken Livingstone, he grasped the importance of design in improving life in the capital and London’s reputation abroad. The good news is that Johnson’s administration is continuing to support the London arm of the Design Council’s national Designing Demand programme, which introduces design to businesses in a bid to improve their products and services, and the London Design Festival. That is, at least, a start.

Livingstone’s regime imposed stricter terms on its funding of the LDF when it voted a further three years’ cash for the event last year (DW 21 February 2007). But he used last year’s event to pledge his support for the creative industries, saying he wanted London to be known primarily for these, ahead of its global financial standing.

It would be good to think that Johnson will use the same platform next month to lay down his strategy for design in the capital.

With the build-up to the 2012 London Olympics providing new outlets for the world-renowned local creative talent, there has never been a better time for London to take a lead in harnessing creativity.

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