On 6th May, Londoners chose their new London Assembly. These 25 Assembly Members will spend the next four years holding the Mayor to account and investigating matters of interest to Londoners.
Ten of those elected in 2016 have entered the Assembly for the very first time, so I have drawn on my 16 years’ experience at City Hall to put together a list of 10 things every new Assembly Member needs to know about the London Assembly.
1. The primary purpose of the Assembly is to scrutinise the Mayor
Whilst the Mayor has to answer to Londoners at the ballot box every four years, the London Assembly’s job is to ensure the Mayor is held to account every day. This means publicly examining policies and programmes through committee meetings, plenary sessions, site visits and investigations.
2. The Assembly examines the work of a range of organisations
The Mayor controls a range of organisations that provide some of London’s key services – Transport for London, the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (as well as the Metropolitan Police Service), the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority – all of which the Assembly scrutinises so they are run efficiently.
We also examine the two Mayoral Development Corporations – the London Legacy Development Corporation and the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation. Assembly work also touches on the activities of London’s boroughs and central government.
3. The work the Assembly undertakes influences Londoners’ daily lives
As well as examining the Mayor’s actions and decisions, Assembly Members act as champions for Londoners by investigating issues important to them. In the past year, proactive work from Assembly Members has led to the introduction of a daily price cap on pay as you go TfL fares, made the case for the London Living Wage and helped tackle London’s school places crisis.
4. There is a good chance every Member will chair a committee
There are 14 Committees covering a diverse range of issues which matter to Londoners – from housing to health – and each one requires a Chair and Deputy Chair. It is therefore highly likely an Assembly Member will chair a committee at some point in their four year tenure. Becoming an Assembly Committee Chair is one of the key political roles for that policy area in London.
5. Representing London is more than desk work
As well as committee work and investigations, Assembly Members also act as ambassadors for Londoners at events and as campaigners for good causes. The Assembly regularly hosts events at City Hall which are of importance to London – such as the Annual Service of Remembrance or Holocaust Memorial Day – and help showcase the very best of the city by sponsoring receptions and presentations for visiting delegations from other cities UK and abroad.
6. Pragmatism is more effective than partisanship
There are currently five political parties represented on the London Assembly: the largest party being Labour with 12 Members, followed by the Conservatives with eight, the Green party with two, UKIP with two and the Liberal Democrats with one.
All committees are cross-party, and a report with unanimous support carries more weight when it comes to making recommendations.
A two-thirds majority is required to amend the Mayor’s budget or change his strategies, so it makes sense to cross political divides and work collaboratively with Assembly colleagues on plans which put Londoners ahead of party political policy.
7. You will be supported by expert staff
The range of work the Assembly conducts is very broad, and there are staff at City Hall to help you with it. Alongside party political staff, Members have a secretariat made up of a Scrutiny team to assist with policy research and development, a Committee Services team to help with the administration and governance of the work and an External Relations team to ensure the public are made aware of your work.
The cost of the Assembly and support staff equates to just £1 per year for the average Band D taxpayer: good value for holding a £17bn budget to account.
8. Transparency runs through everything at City Hall
The majority of London Assembly meetings are held in public and broadcast on the London.gov.uk website so Londoners can see and hear what is being done on their behalf.
The BBC Parliament channel also regularly broadcasts our meetings. Phone numbers and email addresses are listed online, and even the café on the lower ground floor is open to the public during weekdays so that Londoners can mix with City Hall staff.
9. The Assembly and the Mayor get together at least once a month
The most visible example of Assembly scrutiny happens ten times a year at Mayor’s Question Time, which involves the Mayor answering questions from Assembly Members in The Chamber at City Hall. In addition, Assembly Members and the Mayor hold People’s Question Time twice a year.
This evening event is open to all and gives Londoners an opportunity to directly ask their elected representatives what they are doing to improve life in their area. A different borough hosts each event, and the local constituency Member acts as Chair.
10. City Hall is a stimulating place to work
Having an office in such a central and picturesque location is a great privilege. City Hall is physically and intellectually at the heart of London life and there is always something going on in the building and the surrounding area which has cultural, educational or economic value to London.
Plus the 9th floor balcony has probably the best views anywhere in the city, so it is a great spot to pause, reflect and think about how we can all make London a better place.
Want to find out more about how the London Assembly works? Watch a quick video here.
Tony Arbour is Chair of the London Assembly – follow him on Twitter at @AssemblyChair