The London devolution debate has got a new strand, with the London Assembly Conservatives arguing in favour of a 'Southern Powerhouse' (PDF) that would encompass not just Greater London, but the surrounding South Eastern counties as well. Such a combination could be the third biggest urban economy in the world.
Assembly Member Andrew Boff, who wrote the report, says a 'Thames City'
"would be worth some half a trillion pounds to the UK economy. My research shows that London provides the surrounding regions with a substantial amount of their employment, and these skills are essential to London’s economic growth. We need to give people better transport between these regions, house them and make sure opportunities are consistently growing."
With the expected growth of London (to maybe 11.3 million people by 2050), Boff believes a wider administrative area makes sense for things like building houses. With our restricted space we'll need more 'garden cities', which will need to be built in partnership with the counties they're situated in. Proper devolution of property taxes could be used to fund such developments. In fact the Tories — in common with pretty much everyone else when it comes to devolution — call for council tax, business rates, stamp duty land tax, annual tax on enveloped dwellings and capital gains property development tax to be kept within London instead of the vast majority being handed up to the Treasury.
(This kind of fiscal reform makes absolute sense when we look at other infrastructure projects. Only this week, CityMetric highlighted how Crossrail 2 would cost the Treasury a bundle of cash, because the opportunities to raise funds from business rates aren't as impressive as with Crossrail 1. If we kept more of our own money — and had the ability to borrow on our accord — we'd be able to build this stuff ourselves.)
Last year we jokingly put together a list of towns that should be part of London; that now looks remarkably prescient, as part of the reasoning behind the proposed administrative shake-up would be to give Transport for London more control beyond London's borders. This formed much of our rationale too (why don't we 'have' Watford and Amersham?). And the idea that TfL should be given control over commuter rail? YES. Let's do this. Now.
With increased powers, however, comes increased responsibility. The report makes the — entirely reasonable, and already recommended by Parliamentary committee — suggestion that the London Assembly should have greater powers to oversee the Mayor, including the ability to veto the transport budget and policies for planning, crime and transport. We like the idea of mayoral recall, but aren't too keen on scrapping the London-wide Assembly members. These are voted for under proportional representation, and offer the only way for smaller parties to get seats (and therefore a voice) in London's government.