After eight years of fractious relations between London’s councils and previous mayor Ken Livingstone (Lab), the appointment of prominent local government figures to influential positions at City Hall signals that the new chief wants to do things differently.
One of them is Ian Clement (Con), the well-regarded former leader of Bexley LBC, who has been installed as deputy mayor for government relations a role that could make or break the often-fragile relationship between London’s two tiers of local government.
Whispers persist that Mr Clement has been brought in as Boris’s ‘enforcer’, a deal maker to keep the boroughs in check. But in an exclusive interview, Mr Clement explains to LGC that he empathises with his former peers and wants to let them get on with their job.
Though genial, Mr Clement’s clipped turn of phrase suggests he likes to get things done and fast. It is in sharp contrast with Mr Johnson’s bluff some would say bumbling public persona.
However, there are going to be some ‘tough asks’ not just for the boroughs, but also Mr Clement himself. His salary of£124,364 makes him Mr Johnson’s best-remunerated deputy, adding weight to Mr Johnson’s claim that he will value the opinions and wants of the boroughs more than his predecessor. The new mayor has, it appears, put his money where his sizable mouth is.
“Boris has always said he wanted to work with the boroughs, but there will be times when we do disagree. I would be a fool if I thought otherwise,” says Mr Clement. “But it’s about a spirit of trust and how we manage those disagreements.”
A number of disagreements from the twilight of the Livingstone years have now become problems for the new administration notably, housing targets and the mayor’s new planning powers.
Mayoral meddling on planning matters is something Mr Clement has experienced first-hand. “I remember having an argument with the mayor’s office when I was leader of Bexley over 10 parking spaces,” he recalls. “That isn’t strategic. That’s just the bureaucrats out of control.” This won’t happen on his watch, he says. “The new mayor’s planning powers will only be used in exceptional circumstances. I personally cannot at the moment see any upon the horizon.”
Such declarations will be well received by the boroughs, as will the decision to scrap the previous target for 50% of all housing to be affordable. This was a pledge made by Mr Johnson during his electoral campaign, but no sooner had the new incumbent got his hands on the shiny keys to City Hall than he was making his first policy U-turn. Now there will be quotas, but they will be individually negotiated with each borough.
While some senior Labour leaders labelled this post-electoral shift “a bit rich”, others took the more pragmatic view that although promises made on the campaign trail had been broken, targets would at least remain in some form. Mr Clement, who spent his formative years in a council house, is acutely aware of the need for affordable housing.
“We have got to deliver new homes so there are going to be some tough asks, but it is about what type of homes we deliver. There have been some really bad homes built in both the public and private sectors,” he says.
Earlier this month, Mr Johnson and Mr Clement addressed London Councils for the first time in their official capacity and unveiled the Memorandum of Understanding charter agreement (see below).
The agreement between the boroughs and the mayor is couched in extremely broad terms and such a document could easily be labelled as meaningless, but Mr Clement is keen to emphasise that this is merely the beginning and does not trumpet it as anything more.
“It will be a starting point of our working with the boroughs, but it won’t be set in stone forever. It will be renewable every year and we will see how it goes.”
And it is not just London’s local authorities that Mr Clement says he wants to listen to and learn from. As well as liaising with the London boroughs, Mr Clement will be meeting with national, regional and local government around the country and promoting London abroad, which he sees as another learning opportunity.
“The new administration does not have a foreign policy we are not a city state but we will be liaising with governments around the world to improve cultural and business links and to pinch and export ideas,” he says.
As well as Mr Clement, City Hall’s local government team also include Sir Simon Milton, Kit Malthouse and Peter Rogers, formerly the leader, deputy leader and chief executive respectively of Westminster City Council, as well as former Hillingdon LBC leader Richard Barnes.
While history suggests that friction between London’s two tiers of government will inevitably continue, with so many local government old boys in the new look City Hall line up, the boroughs have never had a better chance to be heard.
Memorandum of understanding
The Memorandum of Understanding between the mayor and the London boroughs contains six principles:
London’s elected leaders will ensure that government decisions are made as close to people as possible
London’s elected leaders recognise that each tier of London government has a unique contribution to make to improve the lives of Londoners
London’s elected leaders will respect the differing aspirations of the different communities that make London a successful global capital
Each institution of London government commits itself to ever-increasing effectiveness in the service of Londoners through a commitment to working together towards shared improvement
Each institution of London government pledges to uphold and develop the highest standards of transparency and openness in the way that it reaches decisions and spends public money
London’s elected leaders recognise that while the governance of London may be complex, the people of London are entitled to expect clear and simple accountability for pan-London results, irrespective of institutional boundaries
The document also sets out several actions for London’s elected leaders including setting up a congress and a delivery board,
and the development of the London City Charter
Profile: Ian Clement
Born: 1965, Bexley, Kent.
Summary of role: To advise and lead on the mayor’s relationships with the government and London boroughs and to lead on international relations, promoting London overseas.
Council history: Mr Clement was elected to Bexley LBC in 1998, and became leader in May 2006. Following his appointment to the executive of London Councils in May 2006, Mr Clement was the leading member of the crime and public protection portfolio. Until joining the mayor’s office, Mr Clement remained in full-time employment on top of his political commitments. He rose through the ranks at Royal Mail, from postman to senior manager.