20 years on the London Assembly needs greater powers to stop London's unaccountable Mayor
Today the London Assembly marks its 20th anniversary. The Assembly is more important than ever, but it is in dire need of reform to stop London's unaccountable Mayor. The London Assembly was created to hold the Mayor of London to account. In the last 20 years as the Mayor's role has massively grown, the London Assembly's power has stayed the same. If London is going to have a directly-elected Mayor, it needs a dedicated and powerful London Assembly. Without the Assembly, the Mayor would go unchallenged, and inevitably the lack of scrutiny would lead to poorer, lazier decisions from City Hall. However, despite the importance of the London Assembly, it is struggling to keep up with the Mayor's role. In Sadiq Khan's term alone, his budget has increased by about £2 billion with 300+ extra staff. In comparison, the Assembly's budget sits at £8.4 million with only two extra staff. In comparison to international examples, the London Assembly is a weak scrutiny body. New York's City Council can amend the budget with a simple majority & initiate legislation, and Toronto's City Council can even impose taxes. The power gap is startling. To do its job, the London Assembly needs greater powers to hold the Mayor of London to account. This would not weaken the Mayor but strengthen London's regional government at City Hall. There are five things that must happen: Firstly, the London Assembly should be allowed to reject the Mayor's strategies, plans, and budget by a simple majority. The current 2/3rd majority needed grants the Mayor excessive power over the Assembly and clearly does not make for good governance. Secondly, an independent Budget Office for London should be established. This office, combined with greater budgetary powers for the Assembly, would ensure that City Hall's budgetary process is more accountable. After Sadiq Khan's recent bailouts and concerns over City Hall's finances, this office is desperately needed.
Thirdly, the Mayor's planning powers should be transferred to a Planning Decisions Committee. At the moment, the Mayor has the sole responsibility to decide the outcome of planning applications in secret when they are referred to him. A committee would provide greater transparency and scrutiny. Fourthly, the London Assembly should be granted the power to call-in Mayoral decisions. This would allow the London Assembly would act as a democratic safeguard against the unconstrained exercise of executive power. Finally, Mayor's Question Time should be reformed. This is the main opportunity for the Assembly to question the Mayor directly but happens too little. MQT should be reformed so that it occurs twice a month, which will allow each session to be shorter, sharper and more engaging. The Assembly urgently needs greater powers to scrutinise London's increasingly unaccountable Mayor. A weak Assembly and powerful Mayor is an unsustainable democratic disaster. Twenty years on, the Assembly is needed more than ever, but it is in dire need of reform.
Blog by GLA Conservative Devolution Spokesman Andrew Boff AM.