Political and Constitutional Reform CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by the Mayor of London

Introduction

The Mayor of London welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Committee’s inquiry on the prospects for codifying the relationship between central and local government.

The Greater London Authority (GLA) is unique in the British local government system—it is a strategic regional authority consisting of a directly-elected executive Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, and an elected 25-member London Assembly with scrutiny powers.

The Mayor is responsible for the strategic direction of London, mainly through key strategies for transport, planning, economic development and the environment. However, London’s boroughs deliver the majority of the day-to-day services that keep the capital running smoothly, such as waste collection, licencing, arts and leisure services, children’s services and schools. The Mayor works closely with all of London’s boroughs to deliver the priorities set out in his statutory strategies.

One of the Mayor’s key election pledges in 2008 was to build closer working relationships with London’s boroughs. Two years on this has been achieved through the introduction of a London City Charter, agreed by the Mayor and London Councils, which expresses their commitment to work together as effectively as possible within the current system. Both the Mayor and London Councils have also argued that further devolution and strengthened self-government is necessary. The Mayor therefore welcomes the government’s proposals to devolve more power away from Whitehall to the Mayor and the London boroughs.

This submission consists of two parts. Firstly, it sets out the structure and objectives of developing and delivering the City Charter and secondly provides details of the Mayor’s devolution proposals.

City Charter

Soon after the 2008 Mayoral election, the Mayor signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Chair of London Councils agreeing to start a process of discussion leading to the drafting of a London City Charter and the creation of a Congress of London’s elected leaders. In 2009 the Mayor and London’s 33 borough leaders agreed the first ever City Charter at the first Congress of Leaders. The Charter represented a new era in the working relationship between London’s boroughs and City Hall and all London boroughs support the principles underpinning the Charter.

The Charter is a voluntary agreement between London Councils and the Mayor focusing on mutual cooperation. It does not have the power to dictate to individual boroughs, London Councils or the Mayor what they should do on certain issues. It is a “live” working document that will develop as the unique system of London governance evolves. It is not a legal or quasi-statutory document, nor is it about adding an additional layer of bureaucracy. It is also not intended to be comprehensive or cover all the various ways in which the Mayor and the boroughs intereact. Rather, the intention is to identify a number of key issues for Londoners where urgent action is needed by the Mayor and boroughs and where collaboration will accelerate progress.

City Charter Organisation

The Charter formalises the working relationships across London government by establishing a forum, the Congress of Leaders, where the Mayor and London’s borough leaders can meet twice a year to discuss key issues affecting Londoners and develop ways of working together to overcome these issues.

Between meetings of Congress, a politically-led Steering Group and an officer-led Charter Board support and progress agreed areas of work. The Charter Board brings together the most senior public officials responsible for service delivery in London and is co-chaired by the Chief Executives of the GLA and London Councils.

All elements of the Charter are delivered using existing resources. This project is intended to make more efficient use of resources that already exist within the GLA and London boroughs, not to duplicate or add unnecessary costs.

Progress to Date

In 2009, the City Charter identified the key areas for joint action as:

delivering the best possible transport outcomes for London;

supporting economic recovery in London including tackling worklessness;

reducing serious youth violence in London;

responding to climate change in London;

improving police accountability and more effective commissioning;

improving health outcomes in London; and

jointly campaigning for resources for London.

Moving forward two years, this work has evolved and the papers progressed by Charter Board and agreed at the most recent meeting of Congress on 9 November included:

the impact of and response to the Spending Review of London government;

progress on devolution proposals;

work to explore ways to promote infrastructure investment;

the development of a Carbon Reduction Group to drive forward carbon reduction activity across London;

joint work leading up to and following the 2011Census;

a road concordat for London; and

improving partnership information sharing to reduce harm and crime.

A key achievement of the most recent Congress was agreement to work together to lobby central government on the need to charge utilities companies for digging up the capital’s busiest roads. Congress also agreed to adopt a Roadwork Concordat for London, and to work together on the capital’s response to CSR.

Devolution of Powers

In July the Mayor published his proposals for devolution, which propose a new chapter in the devolution of Whitehall functions to London. They form part of a truly localist approach to public service delivery in which real and meaningful discretion is exercised democratically at the appropriate tier of government.

The Mayoral model of government, with a strong Mayor and scrutinising Assembly, has been a success for London since it was created in 2000. Through democratic debate and a clear electoral mandate, it has given the city the leadership it needs in key policy areas such as transport infrastructure, policing, affordable housing, opportunities for children and young people and environmental improvements. While the Mayoralty has proved itself to be a mature, democratically legitimate institution and has substantial informal powers, outside of transport and policing, its formal powers are, however, minimal. The GLA is highly dependent on national government and the current London settlement falls well short of the city government arrangements in place in other world cities, such as New York and Tokyo.

London’s devolution settlement remains weak and there is much room for improvement, particularly in ensuring that we see decisions taken by the local communities they will affect. Following the election of the government pledging further devolution, the Mayor, London Assembly and London Councils wrote jointly to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP, on 23 July 2010 setting out our proposals for further devolution in London. The proposals would further strengthen the roles of the Mayor and Assembly, resulting in clearer lines of accountability for public services and investment in London, as well as significant efficiencies in service delivery.

The key features of devolution in London, as elsewhere, should be that people can clearly identify who is responsible for what, and that the allocation of responsibilities between national, regional and local government should make sense to people; responsibility and accountability should reside at the level appropriate to the function in question. There must also be effective arrangements in place to provide transparency and accountability to the public, recognising that these are integral elements of effective public services. That is why the package of proposals includes new responsibilities for the Mayor and local authorities, and strengthened powers for the London Assembly to hold the Mayor to account.

The Mayor therefore welcomes the government’s proposals to devolve power in London, which were published on 1 December. With these new powers the Mayor will have the opportunity, along with other important changes, to streamline housing strategy, support the development of the capital’s economy and deliver regeneration programmes across the city. Furthermore, it simplifies delivery of the vital regeneration activities in the east of London and out into the Thames Gateway, bolstering our ability to deliver a long-term vision for the Olympic Park and the Lower Lea Valley and secure a lasting legacy from the London Games in 2012.

Conclusion

In voluntarily signing up to the City Charter, the Mayor and London’s borough leaders have demonstrated their commitment to ensuring all levels of London government work together to make London a better place for those that live and work in the capital.

Further devolution is now, however, both possible and necessary in London. It is time to recognise the maturity, efficiency and accountability of London’s unique system of self-government.

7 December 2010

Prepared 28th January 2013