Lynne, 2 years on from the election many Londoners seem either unaware of most LA members or at the least unsure what their role is in the governance of London. Would you agree with this and if so what can you and the other LAM’s do to overcome this deficit?
I think you’re right – London has just about grasped that we have a Mayor – although what he can and can’t do remains vague to most people, but awareness of the Assembly, its members and their role is almost non-existent.Media coverage would help – but the regional evening newspaper is not interested in what the Assembly is doing – and to be fair, the role of the Assembly which is a scrutiny role, is worthy and valuable – but not sexy. In fact, the Assembly has produced some excellent work, much praised and extremely useful – but of little obvious interest to most people in the street.
As to what we can do about it. Well – you can get a lot of media coverage if you get blind drunk, say something outrageous or rude – so that would be one way of getting noticed.But with the disrepute into which politics has fallen and disinterest demonstrated by the low turn-out at elections – I don’t think that’s the way to go. I suspect we will have to continue to produce good solid work, raise questions with the Mayor, find issues in London to champion on the side of Londoners, learn not to bicker amongst ourselves, stand up for London and make sure we let everyone know what we are doing – probably by local press and London Radio stations.
And it will still be a slow process, because the nature of the structure of the GLA itself – in terms of the differing role and status of the Mayor to the Assembly, means the Mayor has sole executive power, the budget, the staff, the media and all. It is a one man show at the moment as far as the media are concerned. But the Assembly profile is improving. The Assembly is looking at this issue as we speak in terms of getting awareness of our role and who we are to the people. It is vitally important that we see a better turnout at the next GLA elections and a better understanding of what people will be voting for.
Would one of the ways in which this can be reversed be for the role of LAm to be a full time position like that of a Westminster MP? A quick look at the biogs of members shows many with non GLA responsibilities and jobs.
It is meant to be a full-time position. Like MPs, that can mean at the GLA offices or in the constituency. We don’t have time sheets (it might be quite interesting if we did) and I think that the quality of the work and the amount of work we do in our Assembly role must be affected by the amount of time and effort individuals put in.
Some of the non-GLA responsibilities that members have can benefit the role if they are connected with other roles in governance – such as being local councillors – but I do believe there is a difficulty if those ‘other’ jobs take members away to the point of virtual non-contribution to the work of the Assembly. London needs a committed and dedicated Assembly.
Obviously the GLA is a first term entity and has few powers which people on the street can easily recognise. I’m contrasting it with Local Councils or a national Parliament. Looking forward 10 or 15 years how do you see the body evolving? Can you envisage a time when London’s education, health and housing all fall directly under it’s remit?
I hope so. True regional government for London with properly devolved powers would deliver the real benefit for Londoners. And that inevitably should include health, housing and education. At present we really do have a half-cocked sort of London government where the remit covers transport, spatial development and environmental strategies – all very important – but leaves out huge swathes of policy areas which really affect Londoners lives. Within the GLA family, of course, we also have the Metropolitan Police Authority, the Fire Authority and the LDA – so there is an influence there.
However, even within the current GLA remit itself, for example on transport, the Mayor has virtually no powers to raise money. That is what we are seeing, for example in the row over the funding of the tube. If the Government would relax Treasury rules to allow the GLA to issue bonds to raise money, much wanted by the city and the citizens and done so successfully almost everywhere else in the world, we could be dynamic in our funding of major infrastructure projects in London and really move forward on major projects. However, the Government is one of the most controlling and centralising forces ever seen and if it relaxed those rules, it fears losing fiscal control and therefore political control. The Government has not really created regional governance. I certainly hope that in 10-15 years time we will see the GLA gain in power and remit, that it will become an unstoppable force in terms of delivering what London needs with the funding to make proper London governance a reality.
It is illogical and damaging to deny London governance any real power in those areas you mention which are so integral to the every day life of individuals in our city. Decisions which should be taken at regional level in strategic terms should rest with the Mayor and GLA in all policy areas. If you take housing, for example, whilst the Mayor is trying hard through his planning powers to persuade developers to put 50% social housing on the agenda, he is only succeeding to a small degree.
If housing was (as it should be) part of the remit and there was a budget to drive that forward, how much more quickly and successfully he could proceed to deliver more housing – without which the homelessness problem and the lack of affordable housing for key workers will take years tackle successfully. There is an absolute crisis in housing in London and no power within the GLA to solve it quickly.
As a local Councillor as well as a LAM would you consider such an expansion of power for the GLA a positive development?
Yes I would. The caveat has to be that only strategic decisions in policy areas should belong to the GLA and that implementation of such decisions be a local matter. There will always be a tension between the two layers of governance, but if the Mayor decided a percentage for each borough to produce affordable housing and gave it part of the money so to do, the borough would then have the decision as how and where within its boundary (and within the London Plan) it put them. That is a very crude example of how the division might work. I would hope that there could be close partnership working and liaison – but I don’t think the expansion of power would be a problem, I think it should be a benefit. Like all power, it depends how it is used.
The Mayor has confounded many of his original detractors by not reverting to “Red Ken”. However the flip side of this is that many feel he hasn’t been visible enough. Do you share this criticism of the Mayor and what would you say has been this best and worst initiatives since taking office?
Well, he isn’t entirely a new man – and still gets into hot water with some of his wilder statements and actions. However, he is well-regarded by the business community – which would have been unthinkable in the past. As an Assembly member you can almost see a battle within the man between his familiar and historical role as an oppositionist rebel and the role of leader of one the world’s largest and most successful capital cities.
His best initiatives since becoming Mayor have been to raise the number of police (albeit by precept), the very real improvement in the bus service, the requirement to developers to include a high percentage of affordable housing in new developments and the new partnership working between police and transport which will see 500 police or wardens on buses to clean up crime corridors and ensure swift passage of buses in bus lanes as well as probably the key policy of his Mayoral term, if he delivers it successfully, of congestion charging – although there are still some question marks over whether he has improved public transport enough and minimised the risks in a couple of locations on the charging boundary where real traffic problems remain – Tower Bridge and Kennington Lane to name but two.
I have two main criticisms: firstly his lack of delivery on initiatives. he is very good at the flash, bang – but fails on the wallop. He will make a big splash on a variety of issues, but there is no follow through to delivery – headlines but no substance. The other criticism is to do with him failing to be a real figurehead for London. He has the role and the opportunity, but somehow I haven’t felt that he has gained in stature or status in the role.
As a Southwark resident I am pleased that Londonwide government is coming to our Borough. What do you think the benefits of this might be for existing Southwark residents? Is the Assembly aware of the potential for rises in the cost of accommodation nearest City Hall pricing local people out of the area?
I am pleased to be coming to Southwark too. Unlike most people, I love the new building – although it is entirely impractical and far too small. This will bring a raft of other businesses into the area and would hope that this would mainly benefit local people in terms of job opportunities and general regeneration.
In 150 words or less, how has London benefited most over the past two year by having its own directly elected government?
After 14 years in the wilderness, at last London has someone to watch over her and put her needs top of the agenda. That is the greatest benefit. We are here, to stick up for London, argue London’s case and try and deliver a better London for Londoners. The huge deterioration which we have seen in our city over the last couple of decades, the lack of investment in our transport system, has ground us down with no one in our corner. No person or entity to say – this way forward – to drive through improvements – to give vision and hope.
Whilst improvements are slow to see on the ground, the first two years of London’s governance has really been about planning the way forward and finding a way to fund it. As the years roll on, London will change and change for the better. The rot has been stopped and the way to a cleaner, sustainable and pleasant city is on the map for our future. It will take years to achieve all that we want to achieve and my real hope is that we will have politicians who are brave and who will fight for London – above and beyond all else.