1. Governance
April 28, 2016updated 02 Aug 2021 9:06am

Here are seven things the mayor of New York can do that the mayor of London can’t

By Beth Parnell-Hopkinson

If you were making a list of the world’s most influential mayors, where on that list would you expect to see the mayor of London? Any Londoner worth their salt would obviously say their city was the most important, and then probably have to fight anyone who disagreed.

But once you’ve had the arguments over who has the best soundbites, how much influence does a mayor actually have over their city? Let’s look at some things the mayor of the Big Apple can do, but the mayor of the Big Smoke can’t.

Own education

One of the biggest differences between London and New York (spelling idiosyncrasies aside) is who controls education. In New York, it’s City Hall – led by the mayor – which has responsibility for the schooling of the city’s children. Bill de Blasio’s New York City Department of Education has a $25bn budget to run the city’s public schools.

In London, schools have historically been devolved to the boroughs (“local education authorities”). But those have increasingly been cut out of the equation by the academies programme, in which schools are answerable to sponsors and central government, rather than councils. Current City Hall incumbent Boris Johnson made a foray into using London Development Agency money to sponsor a handful of academies back in 2009 – but by 2013, spokespeople were saying he was no longer involved, so that clearly went well.

Ban cake

Thanks to having direct control of the city’s schools, former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg was able to take the bold step of banning bake sales in schools, along with white bread and whole milk. In 2012, he also announced that 57 schools would get salad bars.

Boris Johnson supports the London Food Flagship programme which aims to tackle obesity in school children – but he does let City Hall employees eat cake, albeit with a 10p sugar tax on it.

Ban smoking

Michael Bloomberg famously banned smoking in public areas of the Big Apple in 2011. But despite occasional calls for the same in London, it’s never quite garnered enough support, and the mayor doesn’t have the authority to do it anyway.

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Once again, such bans would be down to local authorities – but as even Boris Johnson describes it as “bossy and nannying”, the likelihood of boroughs getting extra money to enforce a ban are roughly zilch.

Attempt to ban large fizzy drinks

Okay, so we’re cheating on this one. Michael Bloomberg found there were limits to his powers when he tried to extend his ban-hammer to the sale of fizzy drinks over 0.5 litres (or nearly a pint to us Brits).

In what will be a surprise to precisely no-one, the move was opposed by Coca Cola and PepsiCo – but current mayor Bill de Blasio does supports a ban so Bloomberg may yet get his wish.

Hand out contraception in schools

Another Bloomberg initiative, the Connecting Adolescents to Comprehensive Healthcare (CATCH) programme saw the morning after pill handed out to students at 14 schools to cut unplanned pregnancies.

Can you imagine this happening in London? No, neither can we.

On the other hand, Boris Johnson handing out contraception to London’s school children would be headline gold. And just imagine the memes.

Ban (some) pedicabs

De Blasio is about to succeed where Boris Johnson failed in his bid to banish pedicabs – or pedipests as the New York Post refers to them – at least in part of the city. If the mayor’s proposal wins support from the City Council, pedicabs will no longer be able to operate in Central Park below 85th street.

Unlike its counterpart across the pond, London pedicabs aren’t regulated, so Johnson has had to apply for special powers from the government. While it’s likely that Johnson has other things on his mind now, Transport for London (TfL) has taken up the baton, so London pedicabists’ days could still be numbered.

Keep taxes

Of course, a lot of this is possible in New York because the city gets to keep 50 per cent of its tax take. Imagine what London could do if it was allowed to keep so much of its own taxes?  

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