Sadiq Khan has requested a meeting with Chancellor Jeremy Hunt and Levelling Up secretary Michael Gove to explain his concerns about what he calls “the extremely slow pace” of recent transfers of powers from national to London government and to “explore” how the capital can secure a devolution deal similar to those announced for Greater Manchester and West Midlands in yesterday’s budget.
In a letter, the Mayor welcomes the new arrangements for the other two regions and states that England’s cities are “essential for the nation’s growth”, but also argues it is imperative and possible for London government to “negotiate with national government” a similar settlement “in the build up to the next spending review”, which is expected in the autumn.
“I have long argued that elected regional Mayors should have more freedom to reflect their priorities (and those of their electorates) by deciding how government funding is allocated in their regions,” Khan writes. “Across a whole range of policy areas, from building more affordable homes, improving access to high quality skills, supporting regeneration and continuing to invest in vital infrastructure such as transport, those closest to the issues are best placed to find the right solutions for their communities.”
The Greater Manchester and West Midlands Combined authorities, led respectively by Labour’s Andy Burnham and the Conservatives’ Andy Street, will be granted “single settlement” so-called “trailblazer” deals from the next spending review period which the government says enact its local leadership “levelling up” mission.
The deals recognise that the current system for funding those two organisations is “overly reliant on centrally administered funds” and adds to the current devolved functions responsibility for adult education and skills and, in the case of the West Midlands, new transport powers, along with additional scrutiny requirements.
Khan’s letter acknowledges that London has benefited from substantial [75 per cent] business rates retention since 2017 – up from the 50 per cent permitted from 2013/14 – and expresses the view that the 100 per cent retention previously aspired to can be moved to “from April 2024 or April 2025”. The adult education budget was devolved to the Mayor in 2019.
However, powers and autonomy devolved to and the Greater London Authority when it was created in law in 1999 have been eroded in practice in recent years, both by national government insisting on significant changes to the Mayor’s London Plan and, most strikingly, its interference in the running of Transport for London during the pandemic, including by attaching numerous conditions to a series of short-term emergency fund packages.
Khan’s letter describes the single settlement approach taken with the trailblazer deals as “an important step forward in ending the era of Whitehall micro-management and should now be rolled out more widely”.
Boris Johnson when Mayor of London set up a London Finance Commission to look at fiscal devolution to the capital, and reconvened by Khan in 2016 soon after he was first elected.
On London strives to provide more of the kind of journalism the capital city needs. Become a supporter for just £5 a month. You will even get things for your money. Learn more here.