An expert panel at the London Councils’ fringe meeting at Conference mapped out how the localism agenda presents significant opportunities to radically improve the delivery of local services, including policing and health.
Cllr. Merrick Cockell, the Conservative Chairman of London Councils, described how London was the best performing region in the country, with 31 of its 33 boroughs rated either 3 or 4 stars by the Audit Commission’s CPA process. Nor were they complacent: through Capital Ambition, London’s boroughs are working collaboratively across borders and party political divides to improve services for Londoners.
Referring to London Councils’ Trusting Devolution paper, drawn-up cross-party and sent to all the Mayoral candidates before May’s elections (with only Boris responding), Cllr. Cockell highlighted policing and health as two exciting opportunities for localism. Unlike other parts of the countries, the boroughs enjoy "co-terminosity" of borders with their local Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) and police forces. Through joint-commissioning and borough involvement in setting local policing priorities, Cllr. Cockell argued that devolving power to the councils would deliver better services, cost savings and greater democratic accountability. And, as part of that localism, devolution agenda, Government Office for London (GOL) needs abolition.
Shadow Minister for London, Bob Neill MP, took up the theme of
devolving power and questioning the continued existence of GOL given
the Mayor, Assembly and boroughs. Bob reported to an incredulous
audience that GOL now employs more people than it did before the
creation of the GLA and the transfer of powers to the Mayor. He
continued that it was time to lift the regulatory and inspection burden
from local government, to set boroughs free to innovate in service
delivery, and broaden the funding of boroughs.
Ian Clement, former Leader of Bexley and now Deputy Mayor for
Government Relations, explained that Boris takes his million plus
mandate as Mayor of London extremely seriously. The Mayoralty isn’t about fighting a class war or rooting out "enemies" but about
delivering for Londoners – and that’s what the City Charter, being
developed by the Mayor and the boroughs, is all about. The City Charter also destroys any final shred of justification for GOL’s
continued existence – and GOL’s headquarters might be more usefully
sold off to support the Exchequer’s coffers.
Tony Travers of the London School of Economics described the origin of
the City Charter as the way American cities organised their local
services and suggested that it offered London’s leaders a way to
reshape the way Londoners are served. He also noted that Boris’ win is
emblematic of the Conservatives’ growing electoral dominance in the
capital and their ascent to the national stage. Explaining that opposition parties, both Conservative and Labour, have often been very
committed to localism until they gain power and become centralising, Tony asked "would a new Conservative Government be different?" and
challenged those present to fix localism firmly in the minds of the
The lively Q&A session saw GOL denounced again. Strategic Health
Authorities were attacked for simply implementing Department of Health
policies without regard to local needs before yet more denunciations
of GOL. Rather than concentrate on structures, those present were
advised to focus on service delivery. It was explained how the Labour
Government was cynically using GOL to intrude into London politics,
trampling over the Mayor’s and the Boroughs’ turf and giving the lie to
Labour’s professed beliefs in localism. GOL was then denounced once
The most provocative question of a lively fringe, chaired by Jane
Dudman of Guardian Public, noted the enormous tax revenues collected in
the capital but redistributed elsewhere and asked: Should London
seek Home Rule? London may have taken a battering in the markets in
recent days but it remains the country’s economic powerhouse. Whilst
it’s highly unlikely that London will become a city state (perhaps
annexing Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Watford) any time soon, its
directly-elected regional tier of government and the high performance
of the boroughs marks the capital out as requiring special
consideration in local government legislation to allow it to be
continue to be the political powerhouse of innovation and performance
in the delivery of public services.