Labour looks for GLC's successor: Helen Nowicka meets the council leader who is trying to ensure that the capital benefits from a strategic vision and does not miss out on European grants

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London could soon have its first city-wide elected body since the abolition of the Greater London Council Plans will be discussed today to create a think tank comprising the leaders of the capital's 32 borough councils to debate overall policy .

If successful, the discussion group will lead to the founding of a new organisation uniting all London's councils and representing them in discussions with the Government, European officials and the business community.

The proposals will be debated by a meeting of the Labour-run Association of London Authorities (ALA). If approved, formal discussions will open with the London Boroughs Association (LBA), which represents the Conservative-controlled authorities.

Since the GLC was wound up in 1986 quangos and joint committees have been established to co-ordinate policy in specific areas such as fire, civil defence and grants to voluntary organisations.

Critics argue those are no substitute for an umbrella body accountable to the public, and point out London is the only capital in western Europe without a city government. The Labour Party claims four out of five Londoners support the return of a directly elected authority and has pledged to establish a slimmer version of the GLC.

The lack of a strategic planning body means London - unlike both other European Union capitals and the British regions - has been left without facilities in Brussels to lobby for European grants. The ALA is negotiating to establish an office in the Belgian capital.

Toby Harris, leader of the ALA and Haringey council, said that a cross-party committee of council leaders would create a forum for strategic

policy discussions. The more powerful London-wide association could be formed within six months through some form of merger between the ALA and LBA, he added.

''There are a number of developments which are taking place involving decisions taken at Government and European level which have an effect on London. We need a single political voice to speak for the city, he said. 'London has lost out in terms of resources, for instance, more taxation is raised by the business rate in the capital than comes back.

'Lack of a clear, coherent voice has also meant London hasn't been able to make a strategic bid for things like the Olympics. London councils have worked well together thus far on an ad hoc basis. It is time we considered coming together on a more formal basis.

The ALA's negotiating position was strengthened by last month's local elections which gave Labour overall control of a majority of boroughs - 17 out of 32. As a result, the ALA represents more than half of the capital's councils.

John Hall, LBA secretary, said his organisation was considering the proposals and would debate them at next week's annual meeting. 'We don't yet know the strength of feeling among members but no doubt that will become clear.

One issue the new authority is likely to campaign on is a change in the method of calculating government funding, at present via a formula that emphasises a district's population.

The ALA says this has disadvantaged London by largely overlooking factors such as unemployment and deprivation, and rewarded more affluent shire areas which are attracting people away from cities.

(Photograph omitted)

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