I don’t often agree with Boris Johnson, so it’s refreshing to be able to say that I wholeheartedly concur with the Mayor about London’s need to have more say over its own finances and economic development.
Giving London a bigger say over its own future will lead to higher growth and more jobs for Londoners. However, giving London more powers and financial control will inevitably require strengthening the democratic checks, balances and controls at City Hall.
It is within this context that a new report released today on the roles and powers of the London Assembly is so crucial to London’s future.
London’s Government keeps just 7% of the taxes raised from its residents and businesses, compared to 50% in New York.
The Mayor of London commissioned an excellent report from the ‘London Finance Committee’, chaired by the brilliant Tony Travers, to look at exactly what powers and responsibilities should be devolved from central Government to London. It’s a thoughtful report which I back, as do most Labour and Conservative Council Leaders, Assembly Members and MPs in London.
I am willing to work with the Mayor to ensure it is implemented regardless of which party is in power in 2015 and who runs City Hall after 2016.
However, additional powers always come with extra responsibilities. We can’t expect any Chancellor to give London more power unless they are sure that there is sufficient accountability over how those powers will be used.
Today’s report from the Community and Local Government Select Committee highlights some key reforms needed to ensure the London Assembly is able to properly hold the Mayor to account.
Anyone who favours further devolution to London should back this report as a crucial step towards achieving that aim. Strengthening the role of the Assembly is more important now than ever.
The report highlights a series of anomalies and inconsistencies in the powers of the London Assembly, and sets out recommendations to correct them. These include giving the Assembly the power to:
- ‘Call in’ Mayoral decisions, bringing its powers into line with local Councils accountability of directly elected Mayors.
- Amend the Mayor’s capital budgets as it can his revenue budgets.
- Reject the Mayor’s Police and Crime Plan on the same basis as it can other Mayoral strategies.
- Review, and if it chooses, reject the Mayor’s appointment of any Deputy Mayor.
It also calls for any Assembly Member who joins the Mayor’s cabinet to be required to give up their Assembly membership and for the London Fire and Emergency Planning Committee to be reconstituted so that it can be held to account by the London Assembly in the same way as the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC).
Under the Chairmanship of the ever-wise Clive Betts MP, the Committee has produced a thorough and thoughtful report. It is extremely disappointing therefore that the Government Minister responsible for London, Brandon Lewis, has essentially dismissed the committee’s proposals out of hand.
It’s further evidence that the Government simply does not get that Londoners want and need more control over their own future – although their failure to act on the London Finance Committee’s proposals should have told us that already.
I hope the Government will rethink their dismissive reaction. I also hope that Boris Johnson shows that he’s willing to do whatever it takes to get the additional powers London needs and throws his full weight behind the recommendations of the report.
This report really does matter and getting it implemented is in the interests of everyone who want to see London grow and prosper in the future.
Sadiq Khan MP is Shadow London Minister