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Government / Local politics

This is how London mayor Sadiq Khan's top team is shaping up

Over the last few weeks, in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, London mayor Sadiq Khan has been adopting a tone of pragmatism and optimism. His stance reflects the core message of the Centre for Cities’ recent event with Dr Benjamin Barber: “As nation states descend into paralysis and democratic dysfunction, cities are re-emerging as pragmatic problem solvers.”

Khan has spoken up for the diversity of Londoners and the dynamism of its businesses; built international alliances with Paris and Madrid; and renewed calls for devolution of more powers over health, education and skills. These very visible and high profile interventions have been accompanied by a less visible process of putting in place his City Hall senior team. In recent weeks, the mayor has appointed deputy mayors including Jules Pipe (planning, regeneration and skills); Rajesh Agrawal (business and enterprise); and Justine Simons (culture and creative industries).

With the City Hall senior team now pretty much complete, it seems an appropriate time to revisit two of the key lessons from our report setting out what makes a successful mayoral team based on interviews with senior staff from the first 16 years of City Hall administrations.

Prioritise appointing the right chief of staff

The chief of staff is the most important political appointee that the mayor makes. They need to ensure that City Hall and its 800 staff deliver the Mayor’s vision and programme, providing leadership for City Hall staff, as well as being the “eyes and ears” of the mayor in negotiations with external partners, such as Whitehall officials and the boroughs.

David Bellamy, a trusted member of Khan’s Tooting constituency and mayoral campaign teams, was appointed Chief of Staff soon after he took office as mayor. And given his close and long-standing association with Khan, he undoubtedly knows his mind very well.

However, the individuals that have excelled in the chief of staff role over the last 16 years have also brought to the job an impressive track record of senior political leadership skills and experience. Given Bellamy’s lack of political leadership experience, it will be important that he gets the full political backing of the mayor as he gets stuck into his job.


Appoint trusted deputy mayors to lead the four big policy areas: planning, housing, transport, and policing

These four senior and political roles require individuals with strong political leadership skills and experience, rather than specific policy expertise that will already be provided by the directors already within the GLA.

In this context, Jules Pipe is a standout appointment. He has been mayor of Hackney since 2002 and chair of London Councils since 2010. His political leadership and experience offers the mayor the connections and depth of understanding required to get projects and plans delivered. And Sophie Linden, the new DM for police and crime, was formerly both the deputy Mayor of Hackney and a special adviser on policing and crime to home secretary David Blunkett.

James Murray and Val Shawcross also have track records of delivering their briefs of housing and transport, which bodes well for enabling them to deal with some of Khan’s biggest policy challenges. Murray led on housing at Islington borough council; he is now charged with doubling house building numbers, and ensuring that half are “genuinely affordable”. Shawcross, with eight years of experience in the London Assembly transport committee is well placed to lead on negotiations over funding a fare freeze and instigating the night tube while maintaining an expanding network of public transport.

Both these deputy mayors will need to work closely with the executive director for housing and land, and the commissioner for Transport for London respectively. This will require a clear division of responsibilities between the politicians and the executive to ensure there is a clear strategy, decision making hierarchy and accountability.

Our interviews with those who have been there and done it underlined the importance of the mayor having a clear vision and a team of the best people to deliver it. Time will tell whether his top team has the blend of expertise, experience, political nous and good luck to, as Barber argues, improve the lives of Londoners in ways national government seems less able to do.

Edward Clarke is an analyst at the Centre for Cities think tank, on whose website this article was originally published on the think tank’s blog.
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