Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Written Evidence

Memorandum by the Mayor of London (Greater London Authority) (RG 14)


  1.  Citywide government in London has proved to be a success and the Government has recognised this by publishing proposals for additional powers and responsibilities for the Greater London Authority (GLA). Following the failure of the referendum for directly elected regional government in the North East, the future for further devolution in England should focus on applying some of the lessons from London's success—namely providing additional powers to the city-regions outside of London.


  2.  In London, accountability for decision-making at a citywide level is already firmly established. The Mayoral system, together with an elected assembly with scrutiny powers and publicly accountable functional bodies to manage transport (Transport for London) and economic development (the London Development Agency) are serving London well. The specific accountability arrangements—beyond the fundamental one of facing the London electorate every four years—include:

    —  I appear before the London Assembly 10 times a year to answer Assembly Members' questions;

    —  the Mayor's London Plan—London's Spatial Development Strategy—was approved by the Secretary of State, and adopted in 2004, after an extensive public review process and its implementation is monitored by the Assembly's Planning Committee;

    —  the annual budget-setting process is conducted in public, involving three principal stages in the December to February period;

    —  Transport for London (chaired by myself) holds its board meetings in public;

    —  a series of public events are held on a regular basis, including the six monthly People's Question Time and the annual State of London Debate.

  3.  The current arrangements in London are broadly working and therefore are not in need of any fundamental overhaul. As part of the ODPM's current Review of GLA Powers exercise, I am pressing for some adjustments in certain areas of governance, eg a one stage rather than two stage consultation process on my draft strategies and a reform of the arrangements for GLA staff appointments so that I, rather than the Assembly, appoint the GLA staff undertaking work for the Mayoralty. This is partly about simplification and partly about accountability.

  4.  Both in London, which has devolution at a citywide level, and the rest of England, where local decision-making takes place at council level, there are too many national targets and performance frameworks that fail to reflect local priorities and needs. For example, the Learning and Skills Councils in London have been tasked by the DfES to concentrate on Level 2 standard training for 16-18 year olds. However the needs of the capital are more complex—by 2010 46% of jobs in London are likely to require higher-level skills (Level 4 or above), markedly up from the current level of 38%. Existing targeting arrangements are far too rigid and fail to address London's specific needs.

  5.  Accountabilities arrangements would therefore be improved and simplified if there were less intervention and dictat from central government. Later in this submission I describe the benefits which would accrue from the development of city-regions in England along the lines of the London model.


  6.  My strong belief is that powers should be exercised at the most appropriate level of government, on the principle of subsidiarity—ie that power and responsibility should rest at the most local level consistent with good government. My approach to the current review of GLA powers is therefore one that is not piecemeal, but which sets out how certain functions should be devolved from central government (such as skills and housing) while some others should become the responsibility of the Mayor, rather than resting exclusively with boroughs (such as waste planning and management and the exercise of some planning powers). To take the example of planning:

    —  At national level, the overall planning policy framework should be set and mechanisms for hearing final appeals and call-ins to the Secretary of state should be preserved.

    —  At citywide or regional level, strategic planning applications should be considered and a vision for the physical development of the area be agreed. This same level should be charged with the responsibility of ensuring that local development plans are in general conformity with the city regional plan, and also have a role to determine strategically significant planning applications alongside the boroughs concerned.

    —  At local level, the vast majority of planning applications should be decided and a local plan—in general conformity with the city-regional plan—be developed.

  7.  To take another example, policing, at present London has England's only regional police force. This is not to say that all decisions relating to policing are only taken at a regional level. My Safer Neighbourhoods initiative illustrates quite the opposite can occur in practice—regionally funded and led initiatives can be delivered at a local level. Government plans for police force reform support the view that leadership and capacity are often required at a regional or sub-regional level.

  8.  However it is premature to talk about the potential for devolution to or from regional to local level, as outside of London, England does not have directly elected regional government. My preference is for further devolution from the centre to the city-regions—that is more strategic alliances of cities and their hinterlands—which would of course involve close working with existing local government structures.


  9.  Current arrangements in London have proved to be effective. This is because the GLA has been set up as a city model that is consistent with a regional model.

  10.  In my first five and a half years as Mayor I have:

    —  published the London Plan, providing a clear strategic direction for the capital;

    —  ensured that £10 billion investment programme in transport is underway, to give Londoners a twenty-first century transport system;

    —  overseen an increase in bus use of one third since 1998;

    —  introduced the congestion charge which has reduced congestion in London by 30%;

    —  provided the Metropolitan Police with sufficient budget to increase police numbers in the capital by nearly 8,000 since 2001;

    —  worked in partnership with the government to establish a three-year childcare affordability programme;

    —  played a leading role in London being selected to host the 2012 Olympic Games.

  11.  This is not to say that more cannot be done or that the current inter-relationships always function perfectly. The following constitute the key challenges going forward:

    —  making the case to Government that in certain key areas (waste disposal, skills, planning and housing), the Mayoralty requires further strategic powers (see below);

    —  creating links between agencies charged with delivering major physical regeneration schemes and housing capacity and those charged with providing support to businesses and skills training;

    —  integrating services and budgets across the GLA Group (City Hall working with Transport for London, the London Development Agency, the Metropolitan Police Authority and the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority together with any new bodies set up as a result of the Review of Powers exercise) so that regional government in the capital is an efficient and effective as it can be.

  12.  In respect of the Government's review of GLA powers, I am making the following case:

    —  Housing: the Mayoralty should be given responsibility for the London Housing Strategy to be developed in conjunction with the spatial development, economic development and transport strategies. Decisions on how the Regional Housing Pot is spent in the capital would also be made at citywide level.

    —  Skills: London's five Learning and Skills Councils should be rationalised into one body and be made accountable to the Mayoralty to deliver London's unique needs.

    —  Planning: the Mayor should be granted the power to direct a local planning authority not to adopt a Local Plan if it is not in general conformity with the London Plan. Additionally the Mayor's power to direct refusal of a strategic planning application should be extended to directing approval.

    —  Waste: a Single London Waste Authority accountable to the Mayor should be created to be responsible for the planning, treatment and disposal of the capital's waste and also enabling the Mayor to identify specific sites for waste management.


  13.  I strongly support the Government's emerging plans for the establishment of city-regions. England's "core" cities of Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield, together with other major provincial cities, will play a major role in the country's future prosperity and are critical to any moves towards a more inclusive and sustainable society. These arguments are made very powerfully in the ODPM's report "Our Cities Are Back", published in 2004.

  14.  It is widely acknowledged that England has some of the least empowered city governments in the developed world. This needs to change and I would argue that the London experience has much to recommend in it as a model for England's other city regions—ie the "core" cities and their surrounding metropolitan areas.

  15.  Recent evidence, much of it from the ODPM itself, clearly points towards cities and their hinterlands being the key drivers of economic growth. They are certainly the most sustainable form of land use, and offer a critical scale that can drive forward new approaches to securing a more sustainable pattern of development and infrastructure.

  16.  New ideas for supporting working across local authority boundaries need to be found, especially in the city-regions. Some initiatives are already underway. For example, the seven metropolitan authorities in the West Midlands are currently looking to appoint a project director (at a senior level) to provide oversight of that city-region area.

  17.  In some cases voluntary alliances might be the way forward, as is the case with the West Midlands at present, but for others there is an argument that a GLA-type structure could work best, provided local communities and councils approve.

  18.  The over-riding point is that city-regions are the most logical organising unit for local government at a strategic level, including consideration of planning, transport and regeneration issues. It is particularly striking how little devolution there is outside of London on transport decisions and priorities.

  19.  With directly elected regional government now unlikely to occur in England for the foreseeable future, there needs to be far greater clarity about the principles and powers that should rest at the city-region level. I have suggested a couple of areas above but, while London's lessons are important for the rest of the country, the city-regions themselves must set out, through dialogue with Government, the direction they wish to take.

  20.  Part of the devolution agenda will involve a paring back of the government offices with a transfer of many of their responsibilities to the city-regions and local government, or to county councils in more rural areas.


  21.  The experience in London has been that citywide government has had a positive impact on peripheral towns and cities. A major city functioning in an efficient and competitive manner is bound to have a positive impact on surrounding areas.

  22.  Many of those working in London are commuters from outside of London's borders—just under a fifth of London's workers commute from outside of London and, additionally, one in 10 employed residents in the South East and East of England regions rely on London for work. These commuters benefit from improvements to London's transport infrastructure and reductions in congestion.

  23.  In other parts of the country, the position of major cities in relation to their surrounding areas will no doubt differ. However a vibrant Manchester, Newcastle or Bristol can only be good for those parts of the country in which they are located.

  24.  The London Plan stresses the importance of close inter-regional co-operation, particularly between London and its immediate neighbours—the South East and East of England regions. Whether this in itself can tackle economic disparities is questionable. London's status as a world city makes it almost inevitable that it will operate in different economic circumstances from the rest of the country. It is important to note that while London is, generally speaking, "wealthy", 41% of children in London, and 51% in Inner London, are living in poverty, compared with 28% nationally.

  25.  A recent report by GLA Economics (Growing Together—London and the UK Economy) makes a number of telling points on the economic interdependence of London and England's other regions:

    —  The relationship between London's economy and the rest of the UK's economy is one of mutual and positive interdependency.

    —  Economic growth in London and other parts of the UK have moved in tandem for at least the last 20 years.

    —  Individuals tend to move out of London to other parts of the UK later in their careers taking their skills and experience with them to the benefit of those regions.

    —  The concentration in London of wholesale financial and related professional business services creates the opportunity for London and the rest of the UK to benefit from inter-regional trade.

    —  A stronger London benefits the rest of the UK by providing funds for better public services throughout the country as London continues to generate more in tax revenues than it receives in public spending.

  26.  London and England's city-regions need to grow together. Devolution in London will remain incomplete as long as the core cities—and their neighbouring metropolitan areas—continue to function with so little autonomy.

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Prepared 15 March 2006