Annual reviews of this kind provide a rare opportunity to reflect not only on the challenges that are ahead of us, but on the distance we have travelled and the journey we have made together.
Given the scale and range of activity outlined in this report, it is hard for me to reconcile that it is still less than a year since I had the honour of being elected as Chair of London Councils, in succession to Jules Pipe. I know what a big contribution Jules made to London local government and London Councils over many years and I am delighted that, in his new role as Deputy Mayor for Planning, Regeneration and Skills, we will continue to work together in London Government.
Of course, no review of 2016/17 can ignore the potential impact that the decision to leave the European Union will have on London. Whatever view we all individually took in the referendum, going forward it is the duty of everyone with a role to play in the success of London to work together to ensure the capital continues to thrive, economically and socially, and as a national asset.
You often hear the virtues of 'working together’ extolled in various ways, but it is vital to the success of London. London Councils itself is an example of the practical benefits of working together, recognised by all of the capital’s boroughs, regardless of their political hue. What unites us, as local politicians, is the shared ambition to want the best for our local communities. And alongside that we have developed a strongly shared recognition that devolution – by which I mean minimising the democratic distance between communities and the decisions that affect them wherever possible – is key to the successful governance of our huge, complex and vibrant city.
And of course it is not just across London that we need to work together. The fortunes of our great cities are inexorably linked and that is why London Councils has been working closely with the UK’s core cities – including Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and Liverpool – on our shared interests in challenging the failures of the current centralised system.
These arguments have only become stronger in the face of a long period of austerity in public finances and rising demand for the services provided by councils to millions of Londoners daily.
That’s why, as you will see throughout this annual review, we’ve been pushing central government hard on devolution, emphasising the urgency of powers being transferred locally, so we can generate the inclusive economic growth that London and the rest of the UK so desperately needs.
The announcements in the Autumn Statement and the Budget, taking London’s devolution further in areas such as business rates, housing delivery, employment support and adult education were very welcome. But we have clearly not reached our destination, this is very much one step on the journey and we will continue to press for devolution to move faster and go further. Not out of any abstract adherence to any particular model of government, but because more local control of the design and delivery of services offers us the best chance to tailor tight resources and design out the high costs of failure.
But, however effectively resources are deployed, it remains the case that the essential services necessary to fuel the success of a city like London do need paying for. Arguably, none is more important in that success than the education of our children.
That is why it was so important that London Councils, working with the Mayor of London, London MPs, head teachers and parents sought to influence the contents of the main parties' manifestos and to protect schools from the negative impacts of the proposed National Funding Formula. That proposed formula would have seen the capital’s schools lose more than £355 million, so we are pleased that this threat has been removed.
Such outcomes reinforce why we need London Councils to continue to develop as a powerful collective voice for London local government; as well as a hub for co-ordination between boroughs; an honest broker in the collective relationships between London local government and national and local partners; and, of course, in the direct delivery of a defined range of services and an incubator for other shared activities.
This annual review gives an overview of some of the great things we can achieve for London through working together and I look forward to working with you all on achieving our shared ambitions for the coming year.