Capital gains: time for more powers to be devolved to London

22 Jul 15

London needs the same fiscal powers as Scotland and the control over health and social care that has been promised to Manchester. The capital can’t be left out of devolution.

Westminster can on occasion be as removed from the needs of Islington and Wimbledon as it is from the Western Isles. This is why I have introduced the London Devolution Bill as a private member's bill into parliament to give Londoners the chance to shape their own destiny rather than always having to go cap in hand to Downing Street.

London might host the UK’s Parliament but that doesn’t mean the capital should be the last part of the UK under strict rules from Westminster. Deals done behind closed doors to give more powers to councils may well be fine for other parts of England, but in London, with a mayor and assembly already in place, the debate about further devolution needs to be out in the open.

My bill seeks to start implementation of the recommendations of the cross-party London Finance Commission on devolving property taxes and easing borrowing restrictions, which have been ignored by David Cameron and George Osborne.

The legislation also seeks to bring London in line with Scotland and what is planned for Wales, notably the power to vary income tax. It would also allow new taxes, such as a tourist levy or new environmental tax, to be introduced locally. These measures would give London a far greater base to prudentially borrow against, and would allow for more of the visionary and innovative local planning that it so desperately needs. Indeed Londoners would have much more of a real say and a stake in how to achieve future economic growth in the capital.

London should also be able to take more decisions about housing, on whether to control rents or to extend, maintain or stop the Right-to-Buy scheme for council or housing association homes.

And if Manchester can receive control of its NHS budget why shouldn’t London’s healthcare budget be devolved to the mayor in London, with the boroughs able to commission NHS services in the future? Skills and training budgets should be devolved, higher educational standards promoted and the mayor appointed to the board of the Prudential Regulation Authority watchdog in the City.

We are moving towards a more federal Britain. Cities such as Manchester have been given the opportunity to shape their own future and the Scottish Parliament will soon be receiving more devolved powers, on top of its already existing responsibilities.

This is welcome, but London should be recognised too. There are no longer just four partners in the United Kingdom – there are five: England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the city state of London.

A London Devolution Bill – and my proposal as a Labour mayoral candidate to hold a referendum in September 2016 to approve a plan for further powers – would recognise London’s vital role in this new union.

  • Gareth Thomas

    Gareth Thomas is the MP for Harrow West and a candidate for the Labour nomination for London Mayor

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