The London Assembly’s record in securing greater openness and transparency in the Mayoralty and City Hall’s agencies shows it’s a “a powerful force for good,” says newly elected chair Jennette Arnold who delivered the following speech to the Assembly’s AGM:
I am honoured to take up the role of Chair again. In our 15 years so far, we have come a long way together. But, this is an important and challenging year ahead, especially as it leads up to the Assembly and Mayoral Elections in May 2016.
As Chair I will want to emphasise the continuing importance of our key roles;
Of holding to account publicly and democratically the most powerful directly-elected Mayoralty in the country, and
Of being Champions for London – investigating issues affecting the lives of Londoners and improving them
In our work, we scrutinise the Mayor and the functional bodies of the GLA and for me, this work must be based on the principle of transparency. I want to focus on this today.
Too much trust has been lost in the political process over recent years. The London Assembly must play it’s part in re-building belief in politics and government. As we approach the Assembly and Mayoral Elections in May 2016, we must remain focussed on our key role and what more we can do for London.
Our job is to make sure that everyone in the capital gets the value for money and the transparency they deserve. We provide Londoners with the reassurance that back-room deals, under-the-table tactics and simple bad business decisions are not allowed to happen. After all we are elected to hold the Mayor and his functional bodies to account.
As an example, in June 2013, our Budget and Performance Committee commended the Mayor for increasing the amount of information made public by the Greater London Authority Group.
But, the Committee called for a more open and consistent approach across all the GLA organisations; Transport for London, the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, the Metropolitan Police Service, London Fire & Emergency Planning Authority, London Legacy Development Corporation and the GLA itself.
We rejected the routine claim of ‘commercial confidentiality’ often used as a reason to limit the release of information to the public about contracts being paid for by the public.
The Mayor accepted all the recommendations contained in the report, and TfL accepted the recommendations. Then, in May 2014, the Mayor released the briefings he received from TfL, prior to setting public transport fares. The Mayor also confirmed to the Assembly that future TfL advice on transport fares will be published, when a decision on changes to fares is made.
This is a fine example of what we, the London Assembly can do, and we must continue to do it.
In this context, we have much work to complete this year, including these examples;
The Assembly’s Police and Crime Committee will conduct a thematic investigation into the application of the Government’s Prevent Strategy in London
The Economy Committee will focus on fairness and flexibility in London’s labour market
The Environment Committee will continue its work into Air pollution with an update following the Supreme Court judgement.
The Housing Committee will examine the affordability and suitability of new student accommodation in London.
The Health Committee will explore the role of the Mayor and the GLA in raising awareness of, and improving the prevention and control of, Tuberculosis in the capital
The Regeneration Committee will look at the benefits or otherwise of Transport focused regeneration.
Late last year the Assembly also set up Devolution Working Group so that we could engage formally in the on-going discussions concerning increasing powers for London Government. As a result, discussion of some important questions will now be in the public domain – questions such as;
Should property based taxes and business rates be devolved to the Capital?
In the Education sector, should there be just one London Regional Schools Commissioner?
Should Transport for London take over control of key rail routes?
Should London government establish its own public health laws?
If greater fiscal responsibility is handed over from Whitehall, we must be ready to meet the challenge and be even more vigilant in our role as scrutiniser.
So, our Assembly will continue to hold the Mayor to account for his manifesto promises, especially in this final year of office. We must be mindful also, that our work this year will help shape the Mayoral manifestos for next year and the years to come.
Collectively, our 25 heads, when put together, are a powerful force for good; for delivering continuing improvements for the Capital; but more significantly, for securing the transparency within the Mayor’s Office and the Functional Bodies that Londoners expect and which will help to reinforce public confidence in our political process.