The Queen's Speech: Capital set to elect mayor and council

Queen's Speech: London
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Indy Politics
London is to get a new authority and an elected mayor to govern the capital, which has been deprived of a voice since Margaret Thatcher abolished the Greater London Council in 1986.

Elections for a mayor and members of the new authority would be held in May 2000. The Government will bring forward a short Bill by the autumn for a London-wide referendum to be held next year.

The referendum's result is unlikely to upset Labour's plans - opinion polls have consistently shown support for the proposal running at more than 70 per cent among the city's four million voters.

John Prescott, Deputy Prime Minister, and Nick Raynsford, the Minister for London, plan a Green Paper - to be published in July - which will set out detailed proposals for the role and powers of the mayor and the Greater London Authority.

Labour's manifesto for London made it plain that the newly elected authority for London would be handed sweeping powers over police, transport and the environment.

Led by a directly elected mayor, the new authority would be granted overall strategy in a whole range of areas, including the right to appoint the board which runs London Transport.

Responsibility for the policing of London would be taken by a board answering to the new authority, with a majority of its members drawn from it, although the "national" policing functions of the Metropolitan Police would be safeguarded.

Although the current administration would not appreciate the comparison, the responsibilities of the new bodies would not be much different from the old GLC. Set up in 1965, it was responsible for planning policies, traffic management, roads, London Transport, land usage and the fire brigade.

The difference between the old system and the Labour proposals will be in the power wielded. "The mayor will have the moral power of having been elected. He will be able to stick up for the capital. The GLC was fatally disabled by not having enough power," said Tony Travers, director of the Greater London Group at the London School of Economics.

Nick Raynsford said: "The new body will have an important role for economic development - developing partner- ships and attracting new investment, with the mayor leading trade delegations. That is very different from the GLC's function."

Labour ministers were also keen to point out that the elected authorities will not get "bog- ged down" in the day-to-day delivery of services and said there would be "no conflict of responsibility between boroughs and the mayor's function".

The new set-up is likely to see a mayor elected every four years, with annual elections for a third of the new executive. With a salary of at least pounds 100,000, the personal mandate of several million voters and a worldwide profile, the post of elected mayor for London is sure to attract huge interest from politicians and businessmen.

Tony Banks, the new Minister for Sport, has made it clear he would stand for the position, as would Steven Norris, the former Conservative transport minister - even Richard Branson, the flamboyant chairman of Virgin, has not ruled himself out.

The new authority is likely to span all 32 boroughs, as well as the City of London, which constitute the capital. Academics also believe it would have some tax-raising powers - for example, introducing road tolls.

Borough councils would still have responsibility for "social provisions", including education and social services. Labour ministers will make the point that many services - such as transport and urban regeneration - have lacked a "strategic" vision which will be provided by a city-wide authority.