Tomorrow (Wednesday May 14th) London Assembly members will hold their first public meeting since April 2nd and the only one they’ll hold until June 3rd.
This low level of activity contrasts with 8 public meetings in April 2013 and 9 in May 2013 and stems from rules designed to ensure politicians don’t campaign at taxpayer cost by announcing new policies or initiatives in the build up to elections.
To safeguard against meetings descending into political point-scoring which may influence votes in the May 22nd council and European parliament elections, Londoners have had to forgo the usual scrutiny of the Mayor, his policies and agencies.
Unlike local councillors who receive an allowance for attending meetings, Assembly Members and the Mayor are paid an annual salary which they continue to receive even during this ‘purdah’ period.
Of course, AMs do a lot of work outside the chamber which continues and City Hall staff are working on a raft of upcoming reports and scrutiny sessions, but the most visible element of the Assembly’s work has stopped in order to comply with the demands of remote officialdom.
This means rules aimed at stopping taxpayer funded campaigning have had the opposite effect – City Hall’s 26 politicians have been freed up to campaign for their parties while still being paid by taxpayers.
For clarity – there’s nothing wrong with politicians campaigning, they absolutely should be out and about meeting voters and hearing their concerns.
And there’s nothing wrong with London having full-time, salaried politicians to run the city and hold its agencies to account.
But there is a lot wrong with rules which short-change Londoners by closing down for 2 months a tier of government which isn’t facing re-election and which runs and oversees important public bodies such as the Met Police and Transport for London.
AMs, many of whom are deeply frustrated by this enforced period of silence, have tried to get around the rules by holding a private Q&A session with the Met today and arranging for a webcast to be published online when the election period is over.
Welcome as that inventiveness is, AMs shouldn’t be having to work their way around rules which, far from protecting taxpayers, are limiting scrutiny and transparency and preventing elected representatives from raising matters of concern to their constituents.