Guest article: Is Boris Johnson still running London?

By Daniel Moylan

This article is written by senior London Conservative Daniel Moylan, who held a number of key transport and other posts under the mayoralty of Boris Johnson.

How many strategies does the Mayor of London have? Who wrote them? And do they matter?

The Greater London Authority was set up deliberately to be a strategic body, not a service provider. Insofar as it did directly oversee services, these were to be delivered through distinct “functional bodies” with their own governance. Transport for London and the Metropolitan Police are examples of functional bodies, not directly run by the Mayor but accountable to their own board (in the case of TfL) or to the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, successor to the Metropolitan Police Authority (in the case of the Met).

These distinctions have been muddied a bit by new laws made in the nearly two decades since the GLA Act was passed, but it remains the case that the Mayor is primarily a strategic authority for London, with most local government services delivered by the London boroughs. And to be an effective strategic authority he needs some strategies. Indeed the law requires him to have seven of them, seven being a numinous number no doubt.

The seven strategies currently required by law are:

  • the Spatial Development Strategy (dubbed the “London Plan”)
  • the Mayor’s Transport Strategy
  • the Economic Development Strategy for London
  • the London Housing Strategy
  • the London Health Inequalities Strategy
  • the London Environment Strategy and
  • the Mayor’s Culture Strategy

A mayoral strategy is not merely an inspiring piece of paper; rooted in statute law, it endows the Mayor with real decision-making power. On what basis does the Mayor set affordable housing requirements for new development? Step forward the London Plan. What gives the Mayor the power to extend congestion charging? Look in his Transport Strategy. How does a Mayor oblige boroughs to work with him to reduce health inequalities? You guessed it.

And the strategies have to cohere. The London Plan serves an architectonic role, providing the overall strategic context in which the other strategies should nest. And what one strategy contains should be complemented and reinforced by the others. So, the current Mayor has put the idea of “healthy streets” at the heart of his transport plans. In his Health Inequalities Strategy we would expect to see how he intends to make “healthy streets” work disproportionately well for the benefit of communities that typically have poor health outcomes.

With Mayoral strategies playing such a huge role in driving London’s future, can anyone say, over a year in to Sadiq Khan’s mayoralty, who wrote the seven strategies that legally determine many of his biggest decisions? The answer is Boris Johnson in every case. Over a quarter of the way into his term, all we have seen from the current Mayor is a consultation draft of his Transport Strategy, published in June this year.

The London Environment Strategy is of particular interest. Since legislation passed in 2011, it consolidates the earlier legal requirement for the Mayor to produce an air quality strategy, a climate change mitigation and energy strategy, an adaptation to climate change strategy, a London biodiversity action plan, an ambient noise strategy and a municipal waste management strategy.

The current Mayor does a great job criticising President Trump for his reckless withdrawal from his country’s climate change commitments. Is he aware that his own climate change strategies were written by Boris Johnson in his first (not even his second) term? Does he know that his strategy for air quality in London has not been revised since it was published in 2010? Is he confident that his ambient noise strategy is sufficiently up to date to serve as a basis for opposing Heathrow expansion, something he has passionately committed himself to, although passion will count for little and a strategy for a great deal more when the airport’s proposals come to be determined by the planning inspectors.

Of course this may all be a misjudgment: rumours from City Hall indicate that a flood of paper may be about to hit the public over the summer and autumn, with draft plans and strategies and eventually new powers for the Mayor through which he can at last make a clear and practical personal difference to London, allowing the many press statements of his first year to become a reality. But until then, and probably well into 2018 at this rate, while the man up front may be Sadiq Khan, it is still Boris Johnson running London.

Copyright Daniel Moylan July 2017.

Daniel has also written for On London about Heathrow airport.

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