Time to abolish the City of London?

The Tory politician calls for the abolition of the corporation that governs London's square mile and

So at long last after endless media speculation we have a decision from Gordon Brown: Crossrail will be built.

Never mind whether this project is still viable or practical having been first proposed fourteen years ago. Never mind that it has no benefit at all for most actual Londoners as opposed to commuters from the Home Counties.

The Government has bullied and cajoled the City Corporation, the business community and the Mayor of London to stump up the £16 billion required to fund this bribe for the election that never was.

The few days running up to the announcement that gave the go ahead to the project was a typical British bodge job. The deputy director of the CBI appeared on the Today Programme to announce they were very happy with the proposals for a supplementary business rate in London only to have three of his largest retail members, Tescos, Sainsburys and John Lewis partnership on the phone within an hour saying how cross they were.

The Lord Mayor of London was prevailed upon to call an extraordinary meeting of the Court of Common Council for the first time in living memory to roll over to the Government’s demands that the City Corporation cough up £300 million of their accumulated wealth , the so called “City cash” to make up the perceived shortfall.

The role of the City Corporation or the Corporation of the City of London as it has just rebranded itself, in this whole matter bears some investigation.

Unlike proper Local Authorities the Corporation has no Leader of the Council and indeed was immune from the provisions of the 2000 Local Government Act and therefore has an unofficial leader in the Chairman of its Policy and Resources Committee currently Mr Michael Snyder.

As the City of London does not have any Party Politics it is replaced by the much more vicious personality politics and Michael Snyder who is currently serving the final year as Chairman has his fare share of critics.

Indeed his nickname among his many enemies on the Court of Common Council is 'Lord Voldermort' and just like his two predecessors (Michael Cassidy who bizarrely thought he could run for Mayor of London in 2000, and Dame Judith Mayhew whose reward for doing the Government’s bidding was a disastrous period as Master of Kings College) is perceived to have become far too powerful and in his desperation to receive a knighthood regularly pops round to Number 10, City Hall and the Treasury to charm Messrs Brown, Livingstone and Darling.

Apparently the City Corporation holds about £1 billion in City Cash the interest for which pays for the many (on the whole excellent) services that the City provides to the rest of London and also for the endless and lavish hospitality dished out to the Great and the Good at Guildhall, Mansion House and sundry Livery Halls, (I suspect that my invitations to such functions will now cease to the benefit of my substantial waist line).

This money built up over Centuries is held in trust by the Corporation on behalf of all the people of London and quite why the current members of the Corporation feel they can surrender it at the behest of this current Government I cannot understand. The exact figures remain a mystery as the matter as with so much City Corporation business was discussed in secret.

Whilst the tradition, pomp and ceremony of the City of London adds much to our Capital's life, the politics of the Corporation would benefit considerably from more openness and democracy. Quite why the City Aldermen should reject candidates for the top jobs of Sheriff and Lord Mayor on the grounds that they are Gay, female or an Evangelical Christian is beyond me.

One senior London Tory suggested to me that abolition of the Corporation in its current Political form was long overdue and a number are now saying that the time has come for all three Political parties to run slates of candidates in City elections to give the voters a proper choice.

Crossrail may well benefit the Corporation in the short term but the long term Political damage may not be worth a few trains from Maidenhead

Brian Coleman was first elected to the London Assembly in June 2000. Widely outspoken he is best known for his groundbreaking policy of removing traffic calming measures
Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.