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'ALG SPLIT AS NEW CAMPAIGN BACKS WHITEHALL OVER CITY HALL' - MAYOR

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On the eve of a campaign launched by the Association of London Government against more devolution for London, there...
On the eve of a campaign launched by the Association of London Government against more devolution for London, there was disarray after the vice chair of the ALG, who is also the leader of the second largest group on the ALG, distanced himself from a key part of the campaign on housing powers.

In a letter to the mayor dated 19 September, Steve Bullock, vice chair of the Association of London Government, and leader of the ALG Labour group, distanced himself from the campaign saying the document, 'does not represent our settled view'.

His letter states:

'I understand that the new ALG Chairman Cllr Merrick Cockell plans to launch a campaign document on the review of GLA powers outside City Hall this Friday claiming to represent the settled view of the ALG. The document in question, entitled 'Local decisions for local people: London Councils fighting to protect local democracy' does not represent our settled view.'

Mr Bullock gave as his reason that the Labour group on the ALG does not oppose the transfer of housing powers - currently exercised in Whitehall - to the mayor.

There was further disarray after it was confirmed that the Association of London Government's campaign contradicted their own position, until recently shared by all parties in the ALG, which was to support the transfer of housing powers to the Mayor.

The ALG claims that transferring housing powers to London government would concentrate too much power and influence at the centre, with the risk of more strategic decisions being taken that do not take account of local circumstances and priorities. However these powers are in fact exercised by the Government Office for London - so far from being 'centralisation' of power, the government's plan to transfer them to the mayor is a devolution of power to an elected politician accountable to the public.

Mayor of London Ken Livingstone said:

'The ALG now stands exposed as preferring to see major powers over housing in London retained by Whitehall civil servants instead of being exercised by the democratically accountable mayor of London, a stance that has created divisions within the ALG itself.

'The report's position on housing is contrary to the views of the Association of London Government's vice chair as well as nine out of 33 of London's council leaders.

'The ALG is not speaking for many of its members - it is misrepresenting the views of hundreds of councillors right across London, very large numbers of whom back the devolution of housing powers from Whitehall to City Hall.

'In fact the Association of London Government's position on these housing has reversed from their own stated view in February of 2006 when all parties in the Association of London Government backed powers on housing being devolved from Whitehall to City Hall.

'I have always made clear that councils will continue to make the vast majority of decisions on planning issues. And there are also no proposals at all for councils to lose any of their existing housing powers. But it must be right for London-wide decisions about housing to be taken by the elected Mayor rather than unelected civil servants.'

Notes

1. Where the Association of London Government got it wrong:

a) In the report the Association of London Government allege this devolution of housing powers poses a real threat to local democracy.

This is completely untrue. This is devolving powers down from central government to a London-wide level. Would the Association of London Government prefer faceless bureaucrats in Whitehall to take decisions on housing rather than democratically elected Mayor of London?'

b) 'The document states 'it is possible that the definition of strategic could be widened'.

This accusation is based on little more than guesswork and wishful thinking by the Association of London Government with no evidence to back it up.

c) 'The document asserts London is 'too big and varied to leave all decisions to one individual'.

The vast majority of planning decisions will continue to be taken by local councils and there are no proposals at all for councils to lose any of their existing powers.

d) The ALG report says 'these will concentrate too much power and influence at the centre'

The Government proposals on housing are exactly what the Association of London Government actually asked for in the consultation. It beggars belief that the Association of London Government should lobby Government to make a change and then, when that change is made, to oppose it.

On housing investment, the powers being transferred to the Mayor were previously exercised by Ministers through the Government Office for London, not by local councils. Clearly it is better for Londoners if these powers are devolved from central to London-wide government, which is the view of both the government and the vast majority of people who responded to their consultation on the review of the powers of the Mayor.

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