Londoners are to gain greater access to information held by City Hall and its agencies after the Mayor agreed to implement a series of London Assembly recommendations designed to boost transparency.
An Assembly report published in June called on Mayor Boris Johnson to overhaul the Greater London Authority (GLA) group’s approach to publishing information, including ending the routine use of confidentiality clauses in contracts.
Transport for London has previously used such clauses to deny and delay publication of contracts, including those for the cable car and bike hire sponsorship agreements with Emirates and Barclays Bank.
When the cable car contract was eventually published, two years after TfL first refused to do so, it was found to contain clauses banning TfL and the Mayor from criticising the UAE and limiting the involvement of Israeli companies and nationals.
Under the changes agreed to by the Mayor, all future contacts signed by GLA agencies will include a transparency clause, guaranteeing the public’s right of access.
Each agency will also be required to proactively publish its contracts in a searchable online database.
The changes will make it easier for Londoners to see how their money is being spent.
The Mayor’s response to the Assembly confirms that all contracts signed by City Hall, the Met Police and the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) will be routinely published.
In addition, all contracts above £10,000 entered into by the London Legacy Development Corporation and London Fire & Emergency Planning Authority and all TfL contracts above the appropriate EU procurement thresholds will be made public.
The change will eliminate the need for Assembly Members, members of the public and journalists to file Freedom of Information requests to obtain copies of the documents.
The Mayor’s undertakings have been welcomed by John Biggs AM who led the Assembly’s transparency review on behalf of the Assembly’s GLA Oversight Committee.
Mr Biggs said: “Far too often in the past commercial confidentiality has been used as a catch-all to prevent the people from finding out how public authorities are spending their money and what value the private sector is delivering in return for taxpayers’ cash.
“The open publication of contracts entered into on behalf of the Mayor will leave no hiding place for poor performance or overpriced services. It will deliver not only greater transparency but also, in time, could result in more competition and better value for every public pound spent.”
Mayor Johnson has also signalled his expectation that senior GLA staff, including the heads of TfL and the MOPAC, will ensure their agencies fully embrace the public’s right to information.
In a letter to the Assembly, the Mayor said: “I am of the view that transparency should be led from the top of each organisation and so I would expect the chief executive of each body, or equivalent, to be the responsible officer for transparency issues.”
GLA bodies will be expected to follow the Mayor and MOPAC’s example of publishing decisions and the reasons for making them online at the earliest possible opportunity.
The Mayor has also addressed Assembly concerns that the MOPAC is failing to co-operate with Assembly Members who have a duty to scrutinise it and the Met.
MOPAC staff have been accused of answering enquiries made by Assembly Members’ staff slower than they answer correspondence from AMs. The practice is understood to have delayed responses to questions made on behalf of constituents.
As part of the changes, the MOPAC has been ordered to follow the standard GLA and public sector protocol of treating enquiries from Members’ staff “as though they were enquiries from the Members themselves.”
In his response, the Mayor suggests “cultural change” is the key to tackling many instances of poor practice and the lack of transparency in some agencies.
He says transparency remains “an important part of my agenda” but accepts “there is still more to do” to ensure Londoners have access to information about how their money is spent and decisions made on their behalf.
Mr Biggs said: “We welcome the Mayor’s commitments made in response to our report and look forward to seeing them implemented with as much vim and vigour as some parts of the organisation have used in the past to withhold information from the public gaze.”