London mayor granted extra powers

The mayor of London has today had his powers extended to include new control over boroughs on the key issues of planning, waste and housing policy.

Local government secretary Ruth Kelly said the move would build on the successes seen in the capital since the mayoral post was created in 2000, and insisted the London assembly would also have greater powers to hold Ken Livingstone to account.

“Today’s announcement makes good our commitment to devolving responsibilities to the most appropriate level, and I am confident that the new powers will help to improve further the quality of life for Londoners,” she said.

However, the leader of the Conservatives in the assembly, Angie Bray, condemned the new transfer of powers to the mayor, warning that the “systematic leeching” of powers away from the London boroughs would lead to a democratic deficit.

“This undermining of local accountability is distancing people from having a real say in their communities, and does little apart from augment the mayor’s vision of possessing an unchallenged sovereignty across London,” she said.

Fourteen years after the Tories abolished the Greater London council in 1986, Labour brought back devolved government to the capital through the Greater London authority (GLA), made up of the London assembly and the new position of city mayor.

Mr Livingstone was elected the first mayor, with responsibility for setting policies on transport, buildings and land use, economic development and regeneration, culture and environment.

Today’s announcement will see these powers extended to a greater strategic leadership over London’s 32 borough councils – in particular, the mayor will be able to direct changes to their local development plans and ensure they fit his wider strategy.

He will take over responsibility from the London housing board, with responsibility for publishing a statutory housing strategy and the power to decide how regional funds for affordable housing in the capital are spent.

Homelessness charity Shelter welcomed this development, saying it provided Mr Livingstone with a “vital opportunity to tackle the crisis on his doorstep”.

In addition, the mayor will take on a new duty to promote skills in London, and will chair the new London skills and employment board. He will also be required to draw up a new climate strategy and say how emissions can be cut in the capital.

The London assembly will be given a new power to set its own budget and produce an annual report, and will have a say in all the mayor’s new strategies. In addition, it can scrutinise the mayor’s nominations to transport and police bodies in London.

However, Ms Bray warned: “This is not devolution, but ‘thieveolution’, little more than a smash and grab raid on borough power.

“This is confounded by the failure to grant the London assembly the necessary extra powers to do their scrutiny job to the best of their ability.”