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London Development Agency/Mayor of London

Volume 470: debated on Tuesday 15 January 2008

2. If she will initiate a review of the governance of the London Development Agency and the arrangements for scrutiny of the activities of the Mayor of London's advisers. (178385)

The Government have no plans to review the governance of the London Development Agency or the legal basis for the scrutiny of the Mayor’s political advisers.

I am rather surprised by that answer. Will the Minister confirm that there is a code of conduct for the Mayor, assembly members and assembly staff, but no code at all for the Mayor’s political advisers? In light of the controversy over the role of Lee Jasper, who pressurised the LDA into giving grants to his pet organisations, will the Minister think about looking again at the legislation relating to this matter?

I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman’s surprise. The Greater London authority and the LDA are subject to the same local government finance and audit framework, with the Audit Commission and the district auditor having external inspection and audit powers. He knows that the district auditor has been sent the LDA and GLA internal reviews and will be reviewing whether any further action is necessary.

The Mayor’s advisers report directly to the Mayor. The assembly can hold the Mayor to account for their actions, and it is also able to require their presence at meetings. Indeed, it has done so a number of times in public since 2000.

The Minister will know that I asked for the police to be brought in to investigate a number of projects in my area, and he will obviously not want to comment on those, but does he accept that there is growing concern about the cosiness of the relationship between the LDA, the GLA, the Mayor and the Mayor’s office? That could have led to the sort of problems, to put it mildly, that we have seen—the huge abuse of how money is spent. If it is found that there is a serious link between how the LDA has worked and the money that has been misspent, does he agree that the whole way in which the LDA operates will have to be looked at? We may have to go back to renewing legislation and changing the law.

My hon. Friend is right that it would not be right for me to comment on specific allegations, but I do not accept her description of what has gone on. As I have said, the district auditor will be reviewing whether any further action is required as a result of receiving the two internal reviews from the GLA and the LDA.

May I draw the Minister’s attention to a letter from MPs of all three parties, calling for an urgent investigation by the local district auditor? In their words:

“The LDA can no longer be a credible investigator of these allegations.”

Will he confirm that he will take absolutely no further steps to protect the taxpayer in London and the United Kingdom from the wastefulness and cronyism that characterise the expenditure of the LDA?

The hon. Gentleman does not need to tell me because I read the Evening Standard last Friday, as he did. I also read the press release that he put out on that day. It is interesting that he was not on his feet talking about the LDA back in the summer when it delivered the land required for the Olympic park on time—the most complex and largest compulsory purchase order project for the past 20 years. That may have something to do with the elections in May. The fact is that the Mayor we have has been an outstanding leader for London. He has led part of the success of London in recent years, and only today London has won a prestigious international award for the congestion charge—something which the hon. Gentleman opposes.

I hope that the Minister will take time to read the LDA’s report, because the truth is that his washing of his hands is wholly unsatisfactory. Even that report, despite its clear inadequacies, acknowledges the need to review the role of mayoral advisers, based on the limited evidence that resulted in half the instances it investigated being referred to the police. The LDA was criticised in November over some 61 wholly separate grants. It was found that it had not demonstrated that it would get what it expected in return for the funding given, that it had not adequately monitored outcomes, and that it was unable to explain the criteria on which it had based some of its decisions. Government action is needed because the LDA is a serial offender in such matters; it has more form than the Kray brothers.

If the hon. Gentleman says that the scrutiny and holding to account of the LDA have been insufficient, he therefore also says that the operation and conduct of the Greater London assembly has fallen far short of what is required. He remains, of course, a member of that assembly.