The Queen's Speech: Local government - Levy on London commuting

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The Independent Online
THE RIGHT, for the first time, to charge commuters for the privilege of driving to work in their cars was among the powers awarded to a directly elected mayor of London.

A car parking tax will also be included in the Greater London Authority Bill, which could be introduced early after the millennium. Congestion charging will be limited to the capital, but John Prescott is using the scheme as a test for restricting car use in other parts of the country.

Although the Deputy Prime Minister did not get parliamentary time for a Transport Bill, he insisted the Transport White Paper measures to curb traffic are being introduced through secondary powers. Mr Prescott made a bargain with the Chancellor to earmark the money raised from the charges in London to spend on improvements to the public transport system for the capital, including buses and the Underground.

The Bill will allow a separate ballot for the London Assembly - a 25- strong body with powers to approve or amend the mayor's budget. It will set up the London Development Agency and Transport for London, two new executive bodies, and create non-executive bodies for the Metropolitan Police and fire service. The Bill will make the mayor responsible for an integrated transport strategy.

Mr Prescott won a behind-the-scenes tussle with Tony Blair by delaying the introduction of directly elected mayors in town halls across Britain.

The Prime Minister wanted directly elected mayors to act as a watchdog on local council sleaze as part of the Local Government (Standards and Conduct) Bill. But the Bill is being published in draft form, and is not due to be enacted in the coming session. Whitehall sources insisted it was due to lack of Parliamentary time, not a U-turn in policy, but directly elected mayors could be dropped in favour of a cabinet-style system for town halls.

Mr Prescott is pressing ahead with the Local Government (Best Value and Capping) Bill to scrap capping of budgets, and abolish compulsory competitive tendering for contracts, such as emptying the bins, which councillors claim can be less efficient than employing their own workers.

Ministers will have wide powers to intervene in failing councils, there would be new external audits and so-called "beacon" councils could have more autonomy.

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