A new report into how City Hall operates says the London Assembly should have greater and more consistent powers to challenge Mayoral policies before they’re implemented.
The review was carried out by MPs on the House of Commons Communities and Local Government Committee which has today published its conclusions.
Since its creation in 2000 some politicians and commentators have questioned the need for the Assembly, suggesting the Mayor could be effectively scrutinised by London’s local councils.
However the Committee has rejected such suggestions and says that the “strong Mayor” model of London Government can only be effectively scrutinised by a body directly elected for such a purpose.
While backing the Assembly’s existence, MPs have expressed concern that its powers are littered with “anomalies and confusion”.
Their report says this is because Ministers have failed to ensure that new powers for the Mayor have been matched by consistent and effective scrutiny rights for the Assembly.
To address the imbalance MPs say Ministers should give Assembly Members the power to call-in and examine all mayoral decisions before they’re implemented.
They also want AMs to be able to reject the Mayor’s Police and Crime Plan and block the appointment of Deputy Mayors.
The report says it’s important that the Assembly “develop as a separate, independent body, clearly distinguishable from the mayoralty” to help Londoners better understand its work.
To ensure this happens, MPs say AMs should be banned from taking jobs from the Mayor while also sitting on the Assembly, a situation they suggest confuses Londoners and blurs the distinction between executive and scrutiny functions at City Hall.
Although the Committee rejected suggestions that the majority of votes needed to block the Mayor’s be reduced from the current two-thirds, it says AMs should be able to amend or reject planned Mayoral spending on major capital projects.
If the Mayor were to achieve his ambitions for greater financial freedom from central government, as recommended by the London Finance Commission, the report says an assessment should be made of what additional resources the Assembly would need to scrutinise such enhanced financial powers.
In addition to suggesting new powers for the Assembly, the report calls for the capital’s fire authority to be abolished and replaced with a new body, similar to the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime and led by a Deputy Mayor for Fire and Emergency Planning.
Currently the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA) must include 8 Assembly Members, plus seven local councillors and 2 Mayoral representatives.
Although LFEPA is legally separate from the Mayoralty and City Hall, it is depending on the Mayor for a sizeable portion of its funding.
Earlier this year the Mayor and LFEPA clashed over plans to close fire stations as part of a reduction in the London Fire Brigade’s budget. When Authority members voted to reject the planned closures the Mayor used his power to overrule them and direct that they proceed.
MPs say instead of serving on the fire authority, Assembly Members should scrutinise the Fire Brigade and new Mayor’s Office through a new committee along the lines of its Police and Crime Committee which holds the Met and Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime to account.
Committee chair Clive Betts MP said: “It is time to sort out the anomalies in the Assembly’s powers and to forge for it a more identifiable role as the body charged with holding the Mayor to account. Our recommendations will help to do just that.
“In producing our report we aim to initiate a debate about the London Assembly and the governance of London more generally, and how both can be made to work better for Londoners.”
The report has been welcomed by London Assembly Chair Darren Johnson who also thanked the committee for “the time and effort they have put into understanding the sometimes complex arrangements Parliament has established for the Greater London Authority”
Mr Johnson added: ”I am grateful to the Committee for taking up so many of the Assembly’s recommendations for achieving greater consistency and transparency at the GLA. In particular, the proposal to give the Assembly the power to call in the Mayor’s decisions for examination before they are implemented.”
The Government says it has no immediate plans to make major changes to how City Hall operates.
Responding to the report, Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis said the Coalition believed “the system strikes the right balance between ensuring that the Mayor has the powers needed to deliver, whilst ensuring that the Assembly is able to hold the Mayor to account and protect taxpayers’ interests.”
He added: “If and when Parliamentary time allows, there may be scope for small, sensible improvements to tidy up the complex legislation we have inherited from the last Administration, but I doubt many Londoners see this as an urgent priority.”