Bosses at the capital’s tourism and promotions agency have been ordered to provide London Assembly members with paperwork backing up claims that it has generated hundreds of millions of pounds for London’s economy and helped to create thousands of jobs.
Set up by former mayor Boris Johnson as a private company, London & Partners enjoys the status of being the capital’s only official promotions agency and is gifted an annual City Hall grant of almost £14m per year, a figure equal to around half its entire funding.
Despite being so heavily dependent on taxpayer cash to maintain its activities, London & Partners is exempt from public sector transparency rules, including Freedom of Information laws, and has previously refused to disclose how much it pays top staff, publish salary guidelines or provide a breakdown of how it uses its grants.
In addition, meetings of London & Partners’ supervisory board are held in private and it has consistently refused to publish full minutes of meetings.
Assembly Members have long called for the organisation to be more transparent and accountable but have so far failed to secure many meaningful concessions from managers.
The agency justifies its existence on the basis that it attracts tourists and businesses to the capital, but AMs have frequently questioned what value it adds given London’s longstanding global appeal.
L&P claims to have generated £340 million for London’s economy and supported or created 10,112 jobs in the 2016/17 year, but has failed to publish sufficient details of how it arrives at these figures for AMs or the public to scrutinise its claims.
The Assembly has now used its powers to compel L&P to provide “all data and information used” to arrive at the claimed achievements, as well as details of staff pay bands, the agency’s staffing structure and all agendas, papers and minutes of board meetings held in the past five years.
All requested information must be provided within two weeks.
Today’s formal demand follows a meeting of the Assembly’s Economy Committee at which senior managers again failed to provide meaningful details of how they calculated their figures.
Committee chair Susan Hall AM said the use of the Assembly’s formal powers was “a rare step” which “shows the extent of our concern over long-standing issues of transparency and value for money at London & Partners.”
She added: “This company spends vast amounts of public money, and yet much of what it claims to have done is a mystery.
“We have given L&P every opportunity to provide the information we need to make a proper assessment of its performance. But L&P has consistently and routinely resisted.
“Again, today, L&P showed a marked reluctance to divulge crucial information about what happens to the millions of pounds it receives from the taxpayer. This is despite its acknowledgement that public money is the lifeblood of its operation.
“This money is not free. It comes with strings attached.”