After the display of dissent by Tory AMs at the most recent Mayor’s Question Time I’d intended to post in support of Boris’s City Academy plans but a combination of constant pain down my left hand side (if you’re in South London and have been unable to find any ibuprofen in your local Boots I’m the one to blame) and the complexities of Section 31 of the Greater London Authority act have rather slowed me down.
Anyhow, as I finally find myself able to move without contravening the recommended maximum daily dose of painkillers I thought I’d get back to work with some supportive words for both Boris and the initiative.
After helping ease the Met’s former boss out of his chair, supporting the opening of City Academies is probably Boris’s boldest policy to date and his biggest attempt to stretch the role of Mayor of London beyond the expected confines.
As a fan of strong, bold government and someone who believes the Mayor has a role in providing essential services I applaud Boris for pushing ahead in the wake of opposition in his own ranks and, apparently, within the London Development Agency.
Because I’m feeling generous I’ll gloss over for now how Boris has had to about turn on past rhetoric about Mayoral interference at the LDA, but it’s fair to say that a failure to deliver on promises of transparent decision making is responsible for widespread uncertainty over how Boris plans to fund the academies and stay within the law.
That uncertainty arises because at first reading the 1999 Greater London Authority act seems to exclude the Mayor from spending any money on education:
31 Limits of the general power
(3)The Authority shall not by virtue of section 30(1) above incur
expenditure in providing-
(b)any education services,
(c)any social services, or
(d)any health services
Labour AMs first started talking about this apparent barrier last November since when a number of readers have also been in touch seizing on the apparent illegality of the scheme as a potential blunder by Boris.
As recently as last week a Tory AM told me the Mayor had yet to explain to him how he was planning to reconcile the policy with these restrictions.
After discussions with City Hall officials it seems the Mayor is relying on subsection 6 of the same section which gives him a bit of a ‘get out jail free’ card:
Nothing in subsections (1) to (5) above shall be taken to prevent the Authority incurring expenditure in co-operating with, or facilitating or co-ordinating the activities of, the bodies mentioned in those subsections.
Those close to the Mayor believe this enables him to work with local education authorities to deliver the academies, managing to simultaneously stay within the law and attach his name to major new investment in the capital’s education infrastructure.
Discussions I’ve had with some opposition AMs reveal not everyone’s convinced section 6 provides the cover needed but for now Team Boris are convinced they have a watertight way forward.