Are councillors with dual-mandates beneficial to Londoners – or a waste of public money?

London! Image: Christine Matthews via Creative Commons.

Now that the dust has settled from seemingly annual tradition of making Londoners vote in at least one major election a year, and with nothing planned for 2019 (dare you, Theresa), we can settle down for a bit of governing continuity in the capital.

There is, however, one aspect of London’s politics that is somewhat overlooked; the dual-mandates that councillors possess as elected officials. These are the councillors that are also members of the Greater London Authority (GLA), House of Commons, or House of Lords. But are dual-mandates actually any use?

Cant get a mandate?

Often misunderstood is that councillors are more powerful than other politicians on matters such as libraries, bins, social care, and, perhaps most significantly for Londoners, housing.

When it comes to planning, for example, councillors are involved throughout the entire process and ultimately decide applications at committee; all the while having to juggle the budgetary restrictions imposed by a national government with policy pressures from the GLA.

Having these decision-makers in local government who are also working across different tiers of government could well be beneficial, then. Their increased time, resources, and responsibility creates a different understanding of these issues by possessing multiple perspectives. This provides an invaluable asset for local government infrastructure already completely lacking in investment.

Today’s examples of dual-mandates span the political divide as well – aside from Ukip, which is about as about as electable in London as a sentient Clapham North tube station (although Suzanne Evans was briefly a councillor in Merton at the same time as being a national spokesperson for the party). Anyway, here is a list of those with dual-mandates in 2018:

Conservatives

Gareth Bacon is leader of the London Conservatives, GLA member for Bexley and Bromley, and councillor for Longlands ward in Bexley. He was formerly the Conservative spokesperson for regeneration in the GLA and gave up his private-sector job in order to devote time to both elected roles, once making him the highest paid councillor in London.

Steve O’Connell is the GLA member for Croydon and Sutton, and a councillor for Kenley ward in Croydon, where he is shadow cabinet member for communities. A trustee at Crystal Palace Football Club, who’s Selhust Park is seeking planning permission, he is also chair of the GLA’s police & crime committee.

Tony Devenish is the GLA member for West Central, sitting on three different GLA committees: planning, housing, and regeneration. He is also a councillor for Knightsbridge and Belgravia ward in Westminster, where he sits on the planning & city development committee, as well as chairing a planning sub-committee.

Susan Hall is a London-wide GLA member and also a councillor for Hatch End ward in Harrow. Previously leader of Harrow Council from 2013-14, and very active in local politics, she is also chair of both the GLA’s fire, resilience and emergency planning committee, and the economy committee.

A note also, on the triple-mandate once held by Conservative Victoria Borwick from 2015-16, when she was MP for Kensington, a councillor for Abingdon ward in Kensington & Chelsea, and a London-wide member of the GLA. Impressive.


Labour

Emma Dent-Coad MP is a long-standing councillor for Golbourne ward in Kensington and Chelsea, where she led the opposition between 2014-15 and has sat on the council’s planning committee. Her Kensington parliamentary constituency contains Grenfell Tower, where she has been influential in setting out the policy implications for local government nationwide through her “After Grenfell” report.

Leonie Cooper is GLA member for Merton and Wandsworth and a councillor for Furzedown in Wandsworth. She is co-chair of Sera (Labour’s environment campaign) and is deputy chair of the GLA’s environment committee, as well as being a member of the housing committee.

Tom Copley is a London-wide GLA member and councillor for Sydenham ward in Lewisham. He has led on a number of planning issues, including the balloting of tenants for estate regeneration. He is deputy chair of the GLA's housing committee, and also sits on both the planning and the transport committees.

Janet Daby, newly elected MP for Lewisham East, is a Lewisham councillor for Whitefoot ward where she was serving as deputy mayor prior to the election. The most recent dual-mandate intake, she looks set to continue in both of these roles.

Greens

Sian Berry is leader of the GLA Greens as a London-wide member and also councillor for Highgate ward in Camden. As chair of the GLA’s housing committee, she has campaigned on the issues of private renting and estate regeneration, and is expected to become the party’s co-leader in 2018.

Caroline Russell is a London-wide GLA member where she is chair of the environment committee and represents Highbury East ward in Islington. She is the party’s national spokesperson for transport, and has been an ardent critic of the Heathrow expansion as well as providing the sole opposition on Islington Council.

Jonathan Bartley is also co-leader of the Green Party and has just been elected to St Leonards ward in Lambeth where he is now leader of the opposition on the council. He will be running for a second term as co-leader in 2018. (You’re right, this is not technically a dual-mandate. But interesting, no?)

Liberal Democrats

Okay I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel now, but only because the currently elected Lib Dems in London don’t have dual-mandates; although Baronness Ludford did unsuccessfully stand for Clerkenwell ward in Islington in 2018.

It wasn't always this way, though. Leader of the GLA's Liberal Democrats, Caroline Pidgeon, was also a councillor in Southwark for Newington ward from 2008-10 at the same time, and lost to Kate Hoey at the 2010 General Election. Tom Brake was both MP and councillor from 1997-98, Baron Tope was a councillor in Sutton for many years and member of the House of Lords, and Dee Doocey was once simultaneously a member of the GLA and the House of Lords.

Dual-issues

There have been many other past examples of dual-mandates in London, but what they all have in common is a question mark over their ability to perform both roles adequately.

Detractors argue that it is residents who lose out at ward-level, as councillors who have democratic responsibilities elsewhere are unable to dedicate a satisfactory amount of time to their duties. This was the case for Labour’s Neil Coyle and Helen Hayes in Southwark, both of whom were elected as MPs in 2015 and later resigned from the council in 2016.

However it is possible that these dual-mandate councillors are spending their time developing a broader knowledge of the issues we face as a city, and then using different perspectives to bring positive change down to a ward level. If your ward councillor is also a leading policy maker for housing issues at the GLA, that is beneficial for you as an individual.

There is a concern, however, that those with dual-mandates are some of the highest paid councillors in the capital. Although there are much richer councillors out there than those with dual-mandates, the idea of spending public money on high salaries in an age of austerity really irks people, which is why many on this list waive collecting their councillor allowances.

For some, the very notion that councillors are paid at all is unpalatable. But this is usually an argument attributed to those who live in a timeline where London is one large pseudo-version of the Trumpton universe. The allowances paid to councillors enable the less financially well-off to serve their communities in the first place. And anyway, an independent panel on the remuneration of councillors in London says they should be paid more, so yeah.

It is a widely held belief that there is a lack of investment in local government. When money is scarce, using the expertise and power of dual-mandate councillors to make timely investments is surely a positive. Enabling their unique perspectives and promoting the sharing of information will provide better articulated solutions to the issues we face as a city, and when London tackles such issues pragmatically, the whole country benefits – at least until that 2019 general election is called, anyway.

 
 
 
 

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