Trusting in devolution

London mayoral candidates <em>say</em> they will work with boroughs and local governments, but they

Take the time to glance through the main Mayoral candidates’ manifestos and a phrase you are likely to come across is ‘I will work with the boroughs to…”.

To London’s local councils, this is of course preferable to: “I will force the boroughs…”, but does it really mean anything? Despite the large portfolio of “strategic” powers enjoyed by the office of the Mayor of London, it is quite difficult to get much done in London without working with the boroughs in some way.

London’s borough councils are there to represent the needs of their local communities, and from time to time, these needs will be at odds with how a mayor might think the capital should work. The real test of the office of the Mayor of London is what happens on these occasions: should the mayor dismiss the views of local people and press ahead with his plans, or is there another way?

The leaders of London’s local authorities believe that there is, and London Councils recently released a new prospectus for government in the capital: Trusting devolution. Timed to coincide with the Mayoral campaign, this important document sets out how the biggest challenges facing the capital can be successfully addressed by putting local communities at the centre of developing policy.

A change in emphasis is needed in London government. We need to refocus government from a centralised approach that can all too easily ignore local views to one that embraces London’s unique diversity and puts local communities at the centre of decision-making.

It is fair to say that all the main political parties now make a case for devolution, and for local people and their representatives to have a far greater say in how their local area is managed. The wide consensus is that government in the UK is too centralised, too removed from local people to respond effectively to their concerns.

Anyone who lives in or has visited London will know that the capital is a diverse place – not only in terms of its population but also in terms of the range of areas it comprises. As Trusting devolution makes clear, London is not a top-down, one-size-fits-all city, so we should not attempt to govern it as such.

Instead, we need to develop local answers for local needs – and be bold in developing solutions that are tailored to what local communities want. We have set out five areas – ranging from the impact of poverty through to crime – where we think a more locally driven approach could bring about huge improvements for Londoners.

Underpinning this is a desire to reconnect Londoners with this city’s governance. Local people need to believe that they can make a difference, and ensuring they are involved in developing the solutions to the problems facing their local area will reinvigorate democracy in the capital.

The office of the Mayor of London is undoubtedly about leadership – but what does strong leadership for London look like? Is it imposing your will across the capital’s communities, or is it instead having the confidence to let go of power, to give local people the freedom they need to rise to local challenges?

London needs a Mayor that recognises its diversity, its plurality – and most importantly, one that is happy to respond to what local people need – even if it differs from their singular vision for the city. London’s next Mayor needs to ask how he or she can put London’s communities back at the centre of this city’s government. The answer lies in Trusting devolution.

Councillor Merrick Cockell is the London Councils Chairman

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