Opinion: Are the Government in danger of recreating the GLC by the back-door?

When is localism not localism? When it comes to London apparently!

As the Localism Bill makes its way through its committee stages in the House of Commons the clauses that have an impact on London were rushed and hardly discussed on Tuesday afternoon.

This is unfortunate because this is the one part of the bill where the idea of localism is stopped dead in its tracks. In contrast to the localist approach applied across England in the rest of the bill, when it comes to London it seems that devolution stops at a regional level.

There are three specific proposals in the Bill that create this situation. Clauses 158 and 159 that give new housing and regeneration functions to the Greater London Authority (GLA), clause 169 that allows for the creation of Mayoral Development Corporations, and the catch-all clause 194 that allows any Minister to delegate any functions to the Mayor of London. These all cut directly across the strong working relationships that have been developed between the Mayor and London boroughs so serving to draw power upwards and away from local communities. Clause 169 in particular allows the Mayor to gain in powers without any consultation on whether transferring these functions to local government could be a better solution.

Together this bundle of proposals concentrates power at the regional level without any recognition that London local government, and more importantly the communities they serve, may be the best home for some of these services and functions. The Government is potentially blurring the strategic role of the Mayor and allowing it to directly deliver services.

To me this seems like the recreation of the old Greater London Council by the back-door?

The Government should instead create a mechanism for devolution, for London just as much as anywhere else, where any function can be delegated to local government. Plus, the process of consultation to determine the best place to delegate these powers would encourage the Mayor to take on a more strategic oversight of how services are delivered in London and work even more closely with London Boroughs to ensure they have the ability to deliver as service providers.

Even more radically, the Government could operate an open-door policy, allowing authorities to pitch to the Government to take on any function it feels it has capacity to do so. This would be great for London, working in partnership with the Mayor, authorities could take on direct delivery of more services whilst working with the Mayor on the strategic overview across the Capital.

[Wouldn’t this also fit better with the Prime Minister’s vision of the ‘Big Society’?]

I hope our Liberal Democrat parliamentarians working on the Localism Bill have the foresight to do something about these flaws in the short time they have to look at the London element of the bill.

Laura Willoughby is the Liberal Democrat Political Adviser at London Councils.

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This entry was posted in London and Op-eds.
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