Select Committee on Greater London Authority Bill Memoranda


Memorandum submitted by London Councils (GLA 3)

INTRODUCTION

1.  London Councils (formerly the Association of London Government) is the voice of the 32 London boroughs and the City of London. It is committed to fighting for more resources for London and getting the best possible deal for London's 33 councils. We develop policy, lobby government and others, and run a range of services designed to make life better for Londoners.

2.  London Councils welcomes this opportunity to submit written evidence to the Public Bill Committee under the new arrangements for the scrutiny of Public Bills. This paper sets out the matters of concern to the London boroughs, reflecting the consensus of all boroughs and the main political parties.

3.  London Councils has taken a keen interest in the Government's plans to review the powers of the Mayor of London, since they were first consulted on in 2005, and has consistently made known the views of the boroughs to Government and Parliament. In addition, in September 2006 London Councils commissioned a GfK NOP survey[1] of a thousand Londoners on the key tenets of the proposed additional powers for the Mayor.

4.  In that survey 54 per cent of Londoners opposed plans to award the Mayor of London extra powers to decide planning applications across the capital. Only 27 per cent supported proposals to award the Mayor further powers over planning, while, when asked who should be mainly responsible for planning in their area, an overwhelming 75 per cent of Londoners named their local council.

5.  The survey also reveals that Londoners believe that their local council listens to them more than the Mayor does, and keeps them better informed of the services they provide.

6.  The committee's terms of reference invite submissions from outside bodies on the substance of the Bill. London Councils believes the issues set out below are of key importance to the London boroughs:

TRANSPORT: PART 2, CLAUSE 18

Transport for London Board

7.  London Councils welcomes the Government's intention in clause 18 to remove the restrictions on the appointment of holders of political office to the Board of Transport for London (TfL). However this is a permissive power and the Mayor does not have to appoint any politicians.

8.  London Councils believes that there should be borough councillors on the Board of TfL to give a local borough council perspective to the Board's decisions. There should therefore be a specific provision to require London borough councillors to be appointed to the Board.

9.  Section 17 of the Railways Act 2005 amended the Greater London Authority Act 1999 to require the Mayor to appoint two Board members to represent the interests of people living, working and studying in areas outside Greater London served by rail services for which TfL takes responsibility. The Mayor has to consult the relevant regional planning body and he can appoint councillors to these seats on the TfL Board.

10.  London Councils therefore suggests that clause 18 should be amended to require the Mayor to appoint at least two borough representatives to the Board of TfL. London Councils would however go further to suggest that the committee consider moving away from Mayoral appointment to the board positions and instead look to the current arrangement for London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, where the borough positions are nominated directly by London Councils.

11.  London Councils believes that the power of the Mayor to issue directions to TfL should be abolished, or in instances when he is opposed by the board of TfL moderated, since the power as it stands nullifies the Board and is incompatible with open government.

12.  London Councils also believes that TfL should be required to enter into "quality partnerships" with local authorities. The principle behind this proposal is to make TfL, as monopoly service provider, more responsive to borough needs.

Concessionary fares

13.  London Councils is disappointed that the Government has not taken the opportunity of this Bill to remove the anomalous position of the London reserve scheme for concessionary fares (section 241 and schedule 16 of the Greater London Authority Act 1999). The free reserve scheme applies only in London. London Councils has to negotiate travel concessions annually with TfL by 31 December of the year before the scheme comes into effect. This puts London Councils at a disadvantage when negotiating with TfL, because TfL can determine the costs of the reserve scheme. In effect, uniquely in London, the costs of the concessionary fares scheme are determined by the operators who benefit, whereas elsewhere they are determined (subject to appeal to the Secretary of State) by the local authorities.

14.  With the introduction of a national free fare concession on buses, there is no real need for elaborate special legislation for concessionary fares reserve scheme in London when there is no equivalent in the rest of England. London Councils would like this Bill amended to remove the application of the reserve scheme. To guarantee continuity of a concessionary fares scheme, a simple roll-over provision from year to year would suffice.

15.  London Councils believes the following:

a)  Special legislation for a reserve concessionary fare scheme in London is not needed, especially now the Government is introducing a national minimum standard concession for bus travel.

b)  If London's local authorities and Transport for London are unable to agree on a settlement for the next year, the existing agreement should be carried over.

THE LONDON FIRE AND EMERGENCY PLANNING AUTHORITY: PART 5, CLAUSES 25-27

16.  Clause 25 (Membership) proposes a reduction in the number of Assembly members on the Authority from nine to eight, and a reduction in the number of borough representatives from eight to seven. The London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA) objected to this change in its response to the Government's consultation, and at the time London Councils supported LFEPA's view in its response[2]. LFEPA intends to discuss its course of action at a meeting of the Authority on 11 January. London Councils will consider the amendments put forward by the opposition that remove from the Bill the new provisions for the replacement of an Assembly and Borough member by two Mayoral appointments.

HOUSING: PART 6, CLAUSE 28

17.  The key housing issue for London Councils is the way the Mayor's housing powers will interact with the borough's statutory housing powers and strategic housing responsibilities.

Existing obligations and influences on borough housing strategies

18.  London Councils recognise that the boroughs have the following responsibilities:

a)  Boroughs have statutory housing responsibilities in terms of meeting the needs of homeless households, private sector renewal, and meeting the needs of those in housing need (an allocation policy).

b)  The 30 boroughs which own housing stock have responsibilities as landlords towards their tenants (consultation) and to maintain their stock. This latter responsibility goes wider than the Decent Homes Standard - for example, communal areas need maintenance and improvement, but are usually excluded from Decent Homes spending.

c)  In addition, national government from time to time sets housing targets for local authorities, such as:

I.  Ensuring all homes achieve the Decent Home Standard by 2010

II.  Halving the use of temporary accommodation by 2010

19.  The Bill needs expressly to require the Mayor to consider the obligations of London borough councils and their local priorities in their spending plans.

20.  The Bill talks in terms of the Mayor making spending recommendations for the Housing Capital Pot to the Secretary of State (Part 7A of this Bill: GLA Act 1999, new section 333A (2)(d) and (3)). The Mayor is also to recommend to the Secretary of State money to be allocated to Local Authorities [333A (3) (c)]; and the London Housing Strategy must include a statement of expectations about how boroughs should use money made available to them (section 333A (5)) by the Mayor.

21.  London Councils has the following concerns:

a)  What mechanism exists for the Mayor to ensure that his spending recommendations adequately provide for boroughs' statutory responsibilities (both generally and where relevant, as landlords)?

b)  What mechanism will be available for boroughs to appeal if they are given inadequate funding?

c)  That the Mayor will be able to direct how boroughs use the money made available to them. Boroughs must have the final decision about the key local spending priorities for which resources will be made available, for example when making choices between private sector renewal, Decent Homes, wider Local Authority stock improvement, and regeneration.

Section 333A: The Mayor shall prepare and publish the London Housing Strategy

22.  The Mayor is required to take into account the Secretary of State's guidance and impact on regions adjoining London. In drafting the London Housing Strategy the Mayor should also be required to consider the statutory duties, national targets, and local issues to which boroughs are obliged to respond (section 333A (5)).

23.   It should be recognised that borough councillors are locally elected and represent their communities. They will be in touch with local views and factors that are more difficult for the Mayor and GLA to understand. These local issues will feed in, through councillors, to drawing up local strategic priorities. The Lyons Review and Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill encourage a dynamic role for local government in impacting positively in local areas.

24.  London Councils has the following concerns:

a)  How will the Bill ensure that the London Housing Strategy takes account of borough responsibilities?

b)  How will the Bill ensure that the Mayor does not impose unreasonable expectations on how boroughs use money available to them?

Section 333D (2): Local authority housing strategies to be in general conformity with London Housing Strategy

25.  This requirement covers any borough statement of policy or proposals relating to housing. This requirement will be a source of potential conflict between boroughs and the Mayor, and if anything has been strengthened since the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) published proposals in July. It is likely that boroughs' planning policies relating to housing will be scrutinised by the GLA in relation to their conformity with the London Housing Strategy as well as the London Plan.

26.  Many of the themes highlighted in the draft Mayor's Housing Strategy are likely to provide further opportunities for the GLA to challenge boroughs' local strategic priorities. For example, the GLA may wish to focus delivery of new social rented supply in areas which already have high proportions of affordable housing. In terms of mobility of tenants between boroughs, the GLA may wish to increase the proportions of borough properties being made available for mobility. Under the terms of the Capital Moves project, the proportion has been limited to 5 per cent, to ensure boroughs are able to continue to meet their statutory housing duties to those in housing need in their area. It must be clear that the statutory duties of boroughs to their local communities override the Mayor and GLA's interpretation of general conformity to the London Housing Strategy.

27.  Given the potential for unproductive disputes, how will the Bill limit the powers of the Mayor to seek to exercise this power over any issue that he chooses? Should the general conformity requirement be clarified to avoid disputes about whether it applies in particular circumstances? How invasive will Mayoral intervention be?

Areas to clarify

28.  There were a number of proposals from DCLG in The Greater London Authority: the Government's Final Proposals for Additional Powers and Responsibilities for the Mayor and Assembly (DCLG, July 2006). It is unclear how or whether some of these are being taken forward in the Bill, and this needs to be clarified. In particular:

a)  Has the Government changed its plans about DCLG retaining allocation of Decent Homes funding? The Government statement in July 2006 said this would not be included in the Mayor's remit but there is no mention of this exclusion in the Bill.

b)  Will the Mayor still be required to produce a longer-term London Housing Strategy and a three year Housing Investment Plan? What period will the Mayor's spending recommendations cover and how will this be defined?

JANUARY 2007



1   A summary, and the full report is available from the London Councils website - http://www.londoncouncils.gov.uk/londonplanningsurvey Back

2   The GLA: the Government's proposals for additional powers and responsibilities for the Mayor and Assembly - a consultation paper, Response by the Association of London Government section 37, p. 41

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