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London devolution explained

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Yesterday LGC revealed proposals to redesign London’s £93bn public services through wide-ranging devolution from central government. Here we examine how it is envisaged it would work in practice.

What is unique about London?

Other large cities are forming combined authorities to seek devolved powers from government. However, ministers have ruled this out for London as it already has a third tier of government in the Greater London Authority. This means the capital will need to develop its own governance arrangements.

How would London devolution work?

A document setting out the proposals, obtained by LGC, said the devolution would “require new decision making arrangements” which would potentially need “underpinning” in law. It envisaged some powers and budgets would be devolved and managed on a pan-London basis while others would be handed to groupings of boroughs and in some cases individual boroughs.

How would decisions be taken across London?

The document proposes the London Congress, which consists of the leaders of the 32 London boroughs, the City of London, and the city’s mayor, would agree budgets and business plans for powers and budgets devolved on a pan-London basis. Decisions by the congress would require approval from the mayor and the majority of members.

A Congress Executive, based on London Councils’ 11-member cross-party group, would oversee day to day running of most areas of devolved responsibility. Again decisions would need the support of both a majority of members and also that of the mayor. Certain matters could be reserved to the full congress and would require approval by 26 of the 33 council leaders along with the mayor.

The document is clear this would only be for powers devolved from central government and is not suggesting any existing local government services are managed at a pan-London level.

What are borough groupings and how would they take decisions?

Most boroughs have already formed a grouping with their neighbours (see box) and some have quite advanced joint-working arrangements in areas such as tackling long-term unemployment. However, despite the existence of groupings it is not envisaged their boundaries will be fixed: for example boroughs could be in different groupings for different devolved services.

The document is vague on governance saying the councils are “exploring” what arrangements would be required to meet the government’s standards on “accountability”. LGC understands there is no appetite for multi-borough elected mayors.

Current multi-borough groupings in London

  • West – Barnet, Brent, Ealing, Harrow, Hillingdon and Hounslow LBCs are already in a partnership known as the West London Alliance.
  • Centre – Central London Forward was established as a “sub-regional strategic organisation” in 2007. Camden, Islington, Lambeth, Southwark, and Wandsworth LBCs, Kensington & Chelsea RBC, Westminster City Council, and the City of London are its members.
  • East – Barking & Dagenham, Enfield, Havering, Newham, Redbridge, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest LBCs, and Greenwich RBC, joined forces to launch a prospectus for devolution in March.
  • South – Croydon, Merton, Richmond upon Thames, and Sutton LBCs, and Kingston upon Thames RBC, formed the South London Partnership in December. Its committee met for the first time in May.
  • The rest – Bexley, Bromley, Hackney, Hammersmith & Fulham, Haringey and Lewisham LBCs could either join an existing grouping or form their own partnership(s).

 

What checks and balances are proposed?

It is envisaged the London Assembly would scrutinise the work of the congress in addition to any additional powers the mayor of London gained through devolution.

 

What would be done pan London?

Health:

·        A strategic partnership board for London would have oversight of estates, local and sub-regional plans, and funding allocations;

·        Control of a “cash support regime” to take over the provision of support to NHS providers with deficits from the Department of Health;

·         Management of NHS capital budgets and transformation funding.

Education, employment and skills

·        Distribution of funding for schools and further education colleges;

·        Control over some budgets from UK Trade & Investment and other government agencies to provide business support.

Crime and justice

·        Co-ordination, commissioning, and redesigning of court services, probation and community rehabilitation programmes;

·        Integration of back office support for emergency services.

 

What would be done by groups of boroughs?

Health

·        Development of plans for “future models of care” across their sub-regions.

Housing

·        Use of section 106 money for infrastructure across local authority boundaries to “support additional affordable housing” in places where councils and the mayor agree.

·        Ability to share housing revenue account borrowing capacities to access more funding.

Education, employment and skills

·        Support for the long-term unemployed, including the design and delivery of a successor to the Work Programme;

·        Working with clinical commissioning groups to help those with complex needs get back to work.

 

What additional powers could individual councils get?

Housing

Individual councils would be given the power to direct the disposal of public land and buildings.

Health

Health and social care budgets would be pooled at a borough level.

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