"Cameron will give Boris superpowers," was the exciting headline in the Evening Standard just before the General Election. Now Boris has made a detailed pitch for more power to be handed over to him from Whitehall.
The London Development Agency would be abolished. Control of the Royal Parks Agency and the Port of London Authority would go to City Hall.
Addressing the first London Congress of borough leaders since the general election, the Mayor presented his proposals for a greater say over the issues that are important to Londoners, including devolving more powers to the boroughs.
In response to the Government’s decision to dismantle the Government Office for London (GoL) with immediate effect, the Mayor shared his vision for a streamlined GLA group more fit for purpose through the removal of needless bureaucracy and overlapping functions across public bodies.
The Mayor’s proposals, which would be subject to government approval and changes in legislation, would see the London region of the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) devolved to the GLA and the functions of the London Development Agency (LDA) folded into the GLA. A resulting London housing and regeneration body would be an executive arm of the GLA and the LDA would cease to exist as a separate body, although its functions would continue.
In addition, the Olympic Park Legacy Company (OPLC) should be reformed as a Mayoral Development Corporation (MDC), reporting directly to the Mayor and democratically accountable to Londoners. There are currently seven bodies contributing to the regeneration of the Lower Lea Valley which causes duplication and confusion.
The Mayor also proposes that responsibility for the Royal Parks Agency (RPA) and the Port of London Authority (PLA) should be devolved from Whitehall to the Mayor. Other proposals include giving the Mayoralty greater powers over traffic control and the awarding of rail franchises on routes into London.
It is also proposed that the functions of the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) should be divided between the Mayor and the Assembly, with Assembly taking on the scrutiny functions and the Mayor taking on executive functions, creating a policing board for London.
The Mayor also set out his plans for greater powers for the London Assembly, proposing that consideration should be given to granting the Assembly an enhanced role on strategy development and, as the powers of the Mayor increase, so should the scrutiny function of the Assembly.
Other proposals presented by the Mayor include granting the London Skills and Employment Board(LSEB), which the Mayor chairs, the power to approve the allocation of the adult skills budget in London, and that City Hall should have a greater say in health provision in the capital. Building on the coalition Government’s pledge for greater devolution, the Mayor would like to see an enhanced roll for the boroughs in terms of skills and housing, among other areas, in line with the principles of ‘double devolution’.
Mayor of London Boris Johnson says:
“London is one of the few genuine ‘world cities’. Home to more people than many EU member states we have an economy to match. The capital is a global powerhouse with a population as large as Wales and Scotland combined, yet despite providing this world city with clear leadership, the Mayoralty has few formal powers, despite substantial informal powers. This will no longer do.
“Too much is controlled by Whitehall and measured by standards that don’t apply specifically to Londoners, meaning our devolution settlement has remained weak with much room for improvement, particularly where decisions should be taken by those in the local communities they affect.
“It is time to act, and with a new coalition government strongly supportive of devolving powers we must seize the day for London. This is why I am proposing a reshaped GLA group and a new chapter in the devolution of Whitehall functions to City Hall, including greater powers to the boroughs and enhanced scrutiny functions to the Assembly”.
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles says:
“I welcome this contribution from the Mayor of London. The new Government is committed to genuine decentralisation of power. In London, this means transferring power and responsibility down from Whitehall and its quangos progressively downwards to City Hall, to London boroughs and to local neighbourhoods.
“We have already started with the abolition of the unnecessary Government Office for London and delivered more freedoms and less red tape for local councils. I now want to build a political consensus for further devolution of power, and our Localism Bill in the autumn will provide an opportunity to amend legislation accordingly.
“This should include giving London boroughs freedoms that councils outside London will enjoy, and examining the scope for devolving power from City Hall to London boroughs and local communities, in line with the principle of giving power to the boroughs and beyond.”
The Mayor presented his argument for greater financial flexibility. Current statutory limitations and ring fenced budgets prevent the Mayor from working with the boroughs to decide in partnership on the allocation of additional services and resources. He has also called for a freer hand to produce plans and strategies of his choice, rather than being tied to lengthy statutory procedures that double the consultation processes, greatly extending the time taken to deliver results.
Scrapping ring fencing is key to localism. Should Whitehall decide what local councils spend money on? Or should those elected locally decide?
The section on ring fencing says:
The current GLA group incurs expenditure of roughly £15bn annually, comprising £12bn of revenue and £3bn of capital. Of the revenue expenditure, around half is met by grants from Whitehall coming from the DfT to fund TfL, BIS to fund the LDA, the Home Office to fund the
MPA, and CLG to fund the GLA. In addition, each department can further ring fence the money it gives to a GLA body for particular, often quite specific, uses. Examples of ring-fenced grants include Neighbourhood Policing and the Crime Fighting Fund. As a consequence, in total, the GLA group receives about 100 distinct payments a year from central government for different purposes.
This makes it difficult for the Mayor to allocate his budget according to the priorities he was elected on, and to plan ahead with certainty. To give the Mayor more financial freedom, and in line with other policy movements away from the ring-fencing of grants to local government, ring-fencing of grants should be ended, giving the Mayor greater flexibility to invest in key London priorities.