If it is true that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then I am delighted that the Conservatives appear to have adopted my suggestion to save up to £8 million by scrapping the London Assembly.
I made the recommendation in a report last year; not, as some on the right have suggested, in order to roll back the state – but to rationalise and improve scrutiny of the Mayor of London. By and large Assembly Members are pretty dedicated and hard working politicians. Whether they deliver value for money is more questionable. Any mayoral system should certainly have an element of scrutiny, but does London really need to employ 25 full-time politicians to fulfill this role?
I believe that being an assembly member should not be a full-time job and that we could better utilise London’s council leaders to scrutinise the Mayor. Other than voting on the Mayor’s budget and scrutinising his various strategies, much of the assembly’s time is spent investigating issues affecting London – some important, such as the inquiry into the 7/7 attacks – and some more superfluous, such as The impact of the droit de suite on London’s art market. This work could easily be performed by a cross-party regional select committee of London MPs.
Why give London leaders a greater role? They already offer highly visible leadership and are directly accountable to their local population. Furthermore, through day to day interaction with their local communities, they would be best placed to offer first-hand guidance on the views and aspirations of ordinary Londoners.
I have proposed establishing a London Leaders’ Council (LLC) of all elected council leaders in London, whose sole role would be to approve the Mayor’s budget, to review his strategic plans and documents and to question the mayor, his staff and organisations under his control – namely Transport for London, the London Development Agency, the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority and the Metropolitan Police Authority.
Would this lead to political posturing between council leaders and the mayor? Perhaps, but it would then be up to them to explain to their electorate why they had chosen short-term political gain above agreeing a budget that is right for London.
One advantage of this new system would be that it would be much cheaper to run than the current assembly. Some £6.6m could be saved and either handed back to council taxpayers or used to pay for more than 150 additional police on London transport, or to help the 6,000 homeless people in London to get a place of their own.
London’s borough leaders are ready to step up to the plate and offer constructive scrutiny and effective oversight. By bringing them together with the mayor, local people will feel closer to their elected representatives and more able to influence them. Better governance may not be the most scintillating issue in London at the moment, but it remains one of its most pressing.
James Hulme is the Head of Communications at the New Local Government Network
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