Thursday, 19 November 2009

Boris Johnson and Leo Boland go Pyongyang style

Leo Boland, Boris Johnson
Opposition groups on the London Assembly have long been suspicious of the 'cosy' relationship between Boris Johnson and his new GLA Chief Executive Leo Boland.

Boland was brought in at great expense from Barnet Council and now earns £15,000 more than George Osborne's "fat cat" limit.

Incidentally, he also earns over £20,000 more than the Chief Executive received under the 'profligate' Ken regime.

But I guess you get what you pay for, and while the former Chief Exec Anthony Mayer was widely seen as independent, Boland is increasingly seen as "The Mayor's man."

And so it was that when I first published pictures of Boris's Fire Chief Brian Coleman asleep at his desk, it was apparently Boland who intervened to flush out the whistleblower.

One source told me that they had been warned off of passing stories to Tory Troll, and another had their GLA email account openly searched for correspondence with me.

Now Leo Boland has turned his attention to the Assembly itself.

A leaked document sent to Tory Troll reveals that he is pushing for the rights to monitor, and review all official scrutiny reports produced by the Assembly.

According to the proposals, Boland would be able to:

"review draft scrutiny reports before their publication for the purposes of providing quality control and oversight of the written output from the Authority. This opportunity for review would be personal to the Chief Executive and would not be delegated to any other officer."

This is being proposed because:

a. It would provide the Chief Executive with direct oversight and input into the quality of scrutiny reports.

b. The Chief Executive would be aware of reports before their publication, and would be able to anticipate any potential issues of conflict or controversy. (my emphasis)

Under these plans Boland would not only have the powers to 'anticipate' these conflicts and controversies but also potentially to step in and eliminate them.

This would massively blur the separation of powers between the GLA executive and the body that is elected to scrutinise it.

It would also further weaken the work of an Assembly already earmarked for abolition by senior members of the Conservative party.

A report on the plans to be discussed by Assembly leaders today acknowledges these worries but insists that:

"The Chief Executive has a statutory dual-facing role. It would be important to avoid any potential compromise of this position arising from any perception that the Chief Executive’s review of draft reports amounts to approving them or agreeing with their contents. It would equally be very important to avoid any perception of executive interference in the scrutiny function, particularly in cases where reports express disagreement between the Assembly and the Mayor."

However, whether these 'perceptions' are avoided or not, this is the implication of what is being proposed by Leo Boland.

The Assembly as it is, has very few powers, but what it does have is the power to scrutinise the Mayor and the GLA.

Any attempt by "the Mayor's man" to interfere with or weaken that power should be resisted at every step.

Otherwise the Assembly risks being reduced to the kind of North Korean levels of scrutiny already practiced by some Tory AMs.

-Update- Dave Hill has some responses from AMs to this story.


Harold said...

As I recall, Boris was first and foremost to be transparent.
He was going to give value for money (well he beats Ken if it's comedy we want).
He was going to deliver on transport, of course.
Crime? No problem - Ken had a terrible record, though not his private view, it seems.
Anything he's succeeded with we should know about?

Anonymous said...

Boris and the tories clearly have nothing but contempt for the london assembly. i predict that they WILL abolish it if Cameron is elected but leave Boris in place as the mayor just watch and see.

AdamB said...

I'm not convinced that Cameron would waste much time trying to scrap the Assembly however much some in his party want him to. I'm not convinced Boris would go along with it either.

It's easier just to quietly sideline and weaken it...

Anonymous said...

But this is just the tip of the iceberg from this lot. Just wait until Boris popularity starts to drop then we'll see exactly what theyre willing to do.

Political Animal said...

Have you thought about submitting a variant of the picture at the top of the post for the apparently stalled Brand for London contest?

Barry Rochford said...

Cameron may try anything, but the Tories may ahve learnt a little from the past. They abolished GLC which didn't abolish Ken Livingstone.
Also, unlike other local governemnt creations, GLA and the Mayor were the result of a referendum, rather Government Act, so it does have additional importance.
I suppose Boris could be appointed as Governpr General in 2012?

Anonymous said...

The best way to deal with this sort of control is to provide so many draft reports that he drowns. He obviously does not have enough work at the moment.

AdamB said...

Political Animal - What a good idea! Boris or Ritterband if you're reading this, you can have this one as a gift.

Tom said...

On the Pyong-Yang thing, I did chuckle when the various creatives complained that Boris'n'Dan's People's Heroic State Branding Committee was dull and stifled creativity. We are at peace with incompetent wasteful bureaucracy. We have always been at peace with incompetent wasteful bureaucracy.

AdamB said...

More from Design Week on the Brand for London debacle

"‘the final presentation of the…design options went…so badly that the steering group collectively asked, “why are we doing this?” to the marketing project leader, at which point the flaxen-haired one also asked, “why are we doing this?”.’

Another day at the office...

Don't Call Me Dave said...


Boland has form. When he was at Barnet, the planning application for the Stonegrove development in Edgware was going through. It was a hugely controversial development and the then chairman of the planning overview & scrutiny committee put it on the agenda for discussion at his next scrutiny meeting.

The rules in Barnet are that the chief executive publishes all papers and reports and he removed the item from the agenda on grounds that it would upset the Planning Application. It was more than likely that the scrutiny committee would have been highly critical of the Cabinet's regeneration of Stonegrove, so Boland simply quashed it.

Now we know why Boris hired him.

AdamB said...

There certainly does seem to be a pattern of political interference.

Andrew Boff said...

Darren Johnson (Green) - Chair of the London Assembly - 6th May
"I'd like to pay a particular tribute to the Conservative Group who haven't shied away from asking their own party's mayor some awkward questions at times, I think you have played your scrutiny role diligently"

AdamB said...

You'll notice Andrew that I wrote 'some' Tory AMs. There are those, yourself included, who stick up for their principles and their patch.

Unfortunately, you also want to scrap the Assembly altogether, which won't do much for that scrutiny role in my opinion.

Appealing of Ealing said...

Is there anything in Boland's job spec that says he should be politically neutral? (...not that that means much -- cf David Normington / Gus O'Donnell).

I can understand how the right to review draft documents will help PR management, but I don't see how it "would also further weaken the work of an Assembly". How does that work?

Political Animal said...

Appealing - you can find the job description here:

I think it makes it resonably clear that this is a job where political neutrality is expected - especially as the role automatically encompasses that of Greater London Returning Officer! Needless to say, a role of this kind of seniority/pay scale is politically restricted by law.

Appealing of Ealing said...

Thanks for the link.