For the first time in its history, the City of London Corporation’s main decision-making body – the Court of Common Council – convened virtually earlier this week. Elected Members debated a number of key issues, including the City Corporation’s response to COVID-19, at the first meeting held remotely instead of the usual location of Guildhall. I took the opportunity to urge the Policy Chair, our Council leader, to re-establish full democratic oversight as we are facing important decisions to support residents and businesses, and shape the recovery and future of our great City.
Following my questions ahead of our Council meeting I was able to welcome a commitment by the Policy Chair to look into holding our annual meeting in July 2020. This meeting was due to take place in April. This will allow us to fully constitute our Committee meetings and scrutiny of our COVID19 response and plans for the future.
In the first few weeks of our emergency response we were unable to meet, and some decisions had to be taken using urgency procedures. But I argued that as a democratic institution, we should seek to re-establish full Members’ scrutiny at the earliest opportunity.
This is a testament to our City’s adaptability. Even during the Second World War our Council met at Mansion House to make decisions, which shaped the recovery and the future of our great City.
In this period of Covid19 we are now gradually moving into the next phase of our response.
The impact and restrictions will be felt for many more months to follow. We should strengthen the Corporation’s response to support residents and businesses in the Square Mile, and indeed London as a whole. Full scrutiny by Members is crucial in achieving this.
Addressing the Court of Common Council, Policy Chair Catherine McGuinness also highlighted how the organisation is working to support businesses, especially small and medium enterprises (SMEs), through the current pandemic:
“We are liaising constantly with both Central Government and business stakeholders to ensure that SMEs are getting the right support during this time.
“For example, we have asked the Government to widen the number of businesses that qualify for rate relief and grants, including dentists, physiotherapists and barristers. We also want the rate relief thresholds reviewed, as they currently disadvantage SMEs in central London.
“Following the Government announcements on Small Business Grant Fund and Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant Funds, the City Corporation has now directly paid out £14.5 million of the original £14.7 million allocation – that is, 98.6%.
“We have made 847 grant payments out of the original estimate of 900 or 94%. And we are continuing to process all grant payments within 48 hours of receipt of bank details.
Note: The history of the Court of Common Council can be traced back to the Oath of the Commune in 1193, which allowed the Mayor to summon citizens to assist in deciding civic matters. It was first referred to as the Common Council in 1376 and assumed some legislative functions before the end of the fourteenth century.