Monday, November 08, 2010

London Councils Summit: Setting the Agenda – Chair’s Intro and "City" View

On Saturday I went to a “Summit” organised by London Councils in Westminster.  The Chair of London Councils, Hackney Executive Mayor, Jules Pipe (picture) gave an introductory speech to the 200 odd (some very) Councillors from all over London.  Jules' job as Chair is pretty difficult.  On the one hand he is obviously a Labour Party Politician (and is only Chair since the Labour Party controls a majority of Councils in London) but he must also appear to be above politics as Chair.  A difficult balancing act.
He recognised that not everything will be sweetness and light over “money”.  Especially £1.6 billion in cuts.  His message to the Guest Speaker, the Secretary of State, RH Eric Pickles (aka “the evil one”) was that London is a net contributor to rest of the economy.   There should be further consideration of the level of front loading.  Better over 4 years as previously announced.  London is different to the rest of the country due to the cost of housing which is disproportionately high in London.  People will have to move if cuts take place.  Receiving authorities will have problems.  Councillors are not technocrats sent to simply deliver cuts by backroom deals.  People voted for Councillors to act as advocates.  We may fall out but we want  a vigorous debate by the 3 political parties about London’s future.  One side stresses “localism” - the other side the cuts that they think will be devastating to London.  The forum for debate is politics. 
Stuart Fraser, the influential Chair of Policy and Resources Committee, City of London spoke next. 
He thought that there had been changes in politics.  “Localism” and “Big Society”?  How will this come about? Is it about scrutiny, facilitation or funding?  What will be happening to the business rate?  Will control return to Councils?  The City of London business rate funding is 18%.  If they were to get all the money back then they really could line the streets with Gold.  £50 per resident - but he is not holding his breath.  The problem is simple - Money. Other parts of the UK economy are more dependent on public services than London.  We have had good infrastructure settlements.  We need to fight our corner very hard.  London is resilient.  Problem of patchwork London.  Communities that experience severe deprivation alongside others which are quite wealthy.  London is the home of innovation in our country.  Must be positive and move ahead.  London UK economy is worth £20 billion.  The private sector is not just financials.  All industry need good facilities.   He has worked in the city for 45 years and on Council for 20 years.  Newly elected Cllrs may be thinking by now with all these meetings and committees “what have I let myself into”.  What this is - is that you are there to serve a fantastic city. (more posts on rest of day next)

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