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The essential guide to London local government

This online essential guide to London local government outlines the roles of the various bodies involved in delivering services to seven million Londoners. It explains what they do, how they're run and where they fit in with one another.

It is by no means exhaustive: as its title implies, it is intended to give a very quick insight into the role of the organisations that borough councillors are most likely to come across.

A (very) brief history of London governance

Since 1965, there have been 32 borough councils in London, and the City of London.

In 2000, another tier of local government was created called the Greater London Authority, comprising the Mayor of London and the Assembly. 

The 32 London borough councils and the City of London provide the majority of day-to-day services for their local residents, including education, housing, social services, environmental services, local planning and many arts and leisure services.

In contrast, the Mayor of London sets an overall vision for London. The Mayor has a duty to develop strategies on air quality, bio-diversity, culture and tourism, economic development, transport, waste and spatial development.

The boroughs

The boroughs (and the City of London) run most of the day-to-day services that keep London ticking. Together they spend more than £12 billion a year, including about £7 billion on children's services, including education, and £2 billion on adult social services.

They own and maintain nearly half a million homes (one in seven of all homes in London), run the libraries, deal with planning applications, and are responsible for waste collection and licensing the capital's pubs, clubs and restaurants. They repair and maintain 95 per cent of London's roads, deal with parking enforcement, and pay £260 million a year to allow a million older and disabled Londoners free travel on buses, tubes and trains. They also deliver environmental services, including consumer protection, and many arts and leisure services.

Council structure

Each of the 32 London boroughs* are divided into wards. Each ward is usually represented by three elected councillors. Elections are held every four years.

Unlike officers, who are paid employees of the council, councillors are not paid a salary. Councillors do, however, receive an allowance designed to recompense them for the work which they undertake.

Under the Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007, each council (and its residents) must choose and implement one of two possible models it wants to use for its political structure.

These are:

A leader and cabinet or executive. The council leader is elected by full council for four years. The council may include a provision allowing it to remove the leader during that term by resolution. The leader decides on the deputy leader, size of the cabinet and appoints cabinet members. The cabinet can be either single-party or a coalition. The mayoral function in these councils is a ceremonial role. This is the structure used by the majority of councils in London. 

A directly-elected mayor and cabinet or executive. The mayor is directly elected by voters in the borough to serve for four years. He or she would then choose a cabinet of no more than 10 councillors. The cabinet members need not all be from the same political party. A directly-elected mayor has much more power than traditional, largely ceremonial, mayors. Only four of London’s councils currently have this structure: Hackney, Lewisham, Newham and Tower Hamlets.

* The City of London has a unique structure, visit www.cityoflondon.gov.uk for more information

The City of London

England's oldest local authority (by several hundred years), the City delivers the same services as the boroughs, but to a much smaller area.

However, it has a very important role in promoting and developing London as one of the world's foremost centres of business and commerce, and its responsibilities extend beyond its boundaries (for example, it maintains Epping Forest and Hampstead Heath, and runs the quarantine station at Heathrow Airport).

Since 1839 it has also run its own police force, the City of London Police.

The City of London has retained its very strong traditions. It is run on a non-party political basis through its Lord Mayor and members of the Court of Common Council (upon which the Parliament at Westminster is based).

www.cityoflondon.gov.uk

Greater London Authority

The GLA is a democratically-elected strategic authority, comprising two distinct parts: the Mayor and Assembly. The Mayor is elected directly by Londoners, while the Assembly consists of 25 elected members (14 representing constituencies and the rest elected from party lists according to total London-wide vote).

There is a clear separation of powers between the Mayor and the Assembly. The Mayor has an executive role, setting an overall vision for London and defining clear strategies on a range of issues (including air quality, spatial development, culture and tourism, economic development, transport and waste), while the Assembly members act as scrutineers, with the power to veto the Mayor’s budget plans (but only with a two-thirds majority).

This system of 'checks and balances' has generally worked very well since the GLA started in 2000.

Much of the work of the GLA is carried out by four executive or functional bodies, Transport for London (TfL), the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime (MOPC)  and the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA).

Details of the role of each of these bodies can be found by clicking the links above.

www.london.gov.uk

Local Government Association

The LGA is the national equivalent of London Councils: it represents all the councils in England and Wales, nearly 500 of them in total.

It describes itself as a voluntary lobbying organisation that exists to promote better local government. 

It was formed in 1997 from a merger of the three separate organisations that represented metropolitan, district and county councils. When lobbying, the LGA leads on national issues that affect local government, while London Councils concentrates on those that have a particular relevance to London.

www.local.gov.uk

London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority

LFEPA runs the London Fire Brigade, and is responsible for advising about fire safety, enforcing fire safety laws and carrying out various emergency planning activities, including helping the boroughs plan for emergencies.

It also has specific responsibilities for responding to traffic accidents and to other emergencies, including acts of terrorism or other catastrophic events.

The authority has 17 members; eight are London Assembly members, seven are borough councillors and two are mayoral appointments.  The borough members are nominated by London Councils but appointed by the Mayor. The party political balance of the London Assembly and borough council members must reflect the party political balance of the Assembly and across the London boroughs. The Mayor appoints the chair of the authority.

Each borough has a borough commander who is responsible for the full range of services provided by the Authority in that area. 

LFEPA is a (non-voting) member of the London Councils.

www.london-fire.gov.uk

Mayor's office for policing and crime

The MOPAC replaced the Metropolitan Police Authority in 2012 - and is a paying member of London Councils.

The Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime was set up in response to the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act (2011) which reforms the accountability of police services and replaces police authorities across England and Wales with elected individuals. The rest of the country will elect their Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) in November 2012.

The MOPAC is headed by the Mayor or, by his nomination, the appointed statutory Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime. This means that the Mayor is directly accountable for policing performance in London. The MOPAC makes this process and accountability clearer and gives Londoners a further voice in how their city is policed.

Through the MOPAC the Mayor and Deputy Mayor will be directly accountable for police performance in the capital, setting the Met Police’s strategic direction and allocating resources. Operational policing will however remain the responsibility of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner.

The London Assembly will scrutinise the work of the MOPAC through a new body, the Police and Crime Committee (PCC).

www.london.gov.uk/priorities/mayors-office-policing-and-crime

Transport for London

TfL was created in 2000 and is responsible for running London’s transport services, including the tube network, London Buses, and the Docklands Light Railway. It also runs the London Congestion Charge scheme, and is responsible for the 550 km network of main roads, and all of London’s traffic lights. London Overground also became part of TfL in 2007.

It is also responsible for regulating the city’s taxis and private hire trade, and the management of Croydon Tramlink, London River Services, Victoria Coach Station and London’s Transport Museum.

TfL is run by a board of members appointed by the Mayor (who also chairs it), and is responsible for delivering the Mayor’s integrated transport strategy, working closely with the boroughs and the Strategic Rail Authority.

www.tfl.gov.uk