My Lords, serious questions need to be raised concerning the contents of the Bill. My main concerns centre on the crucial issues of housing, planning, waste and the role of the Greater London Authority under the new system.
On the issue of housing, the responsibilities of the existing London Housing Board will transfer to the Mayor, and he will be responsible for publishing a London housing strategy and housing investment plan. The Mayor will have responsibility for addressing the demand for affordable housing in the capital. With regard to planning, the Mayor will have the power not only to direct changes for local borough plans but also to privatise particular projects he feels are of most benefit to meet the requirements of his London plan. The Bill will also create a new London-wide waste management programme, apparently aimed at improving efficiency in the boroughs and increasing recycling throughout London. We will also see the creation of a London waste and recycling fund.
These changes will concentrate too much power in the hands of the Mayor, and one of my main criticisms of the Bill is that the large increase in powers to the mayoral office is not matched by equal increases in accountability. That is not fair, and it is unacceptable.
It may be argued that there can be benefits from considering local issues within the wider perspective of London as a whole. However, there is a real danger that local and community issues will be overlooked in favour of more strategic overall plans, which will result in local people feeling ostracised from the decision-making process. A survey published in September 2006 by London Councils provided evidence to suggest that Londoners themselves have much more faith in their local councils over matters such as housing and planning, and are not happy with increased powers for the Mayor.
I live in the London Borough of Croydon and my company has its head office in Bromley. Both those local councils are well managed and efficient. Therefore, I do not see any need for the decision-making process regarding housing and planning to be moved from our elected local councillors to the Greater London Authority. I may add that under the new system the role of the Assembly will give it the authority to set its own budget, and it will publish an annual report on its workings. Alongside this, the Assembly will hold hearings to validate the mayor’s choices for key appointments. These proposals need further examination and reconsideration.
The explanations and definitions in the Bill are also poor. The word “strategic” in relation to the mayor’s powers over planning is an example. There is little explanation of how the Government determine “strategic”—thus, the emphasis lies completely with the mayor in how this should be defined and played out in practice. There is a distinct lack of transparency built into the Bill. Instead of definite requirements for planning written into the Bill, the onus is on the mayor to live up to his claims that there will be transparency in his dealings.
Attempts to standardise services throughout the capital—for example, in waste management or housing—will undermine much of the progress made by certain boroughs in these fields in recent years. A “one size fits all” approach will stifle any innovative approach boroughs may have to the individual problems they face; it is not the way to increase standards overall. Instead, a considered and local approach with community consultation is much more likely to have the positive effects desired. Overall, the dramatic transfer of power to the mayoral office is not justified. It is felt that a body dominated by the mayor, run from City Hall, will not be responsive to local issues.
I have very strong connections with the City of London and have a branch of my company in the Royal Exchange. The City Corporation feels that the current proposals are in danger of damaging the City’s international competitiveness by making the whole process more complicated and less responsive. The financial organisations that make the City of London a successful international marketplace require a structure that works efficiently. The proposed added layer of bureaucracy will be a hindrance and not cost-effective.
In my opinion, the Bill is not acceptable in its present form. Several appropriate amendments will be tabled for discussion in its later stages.