The UK's Unique Local Authority Laura Fallon

The City of London Corporation is the governing body for the City of London, a small area in Central London that is the traditional home of finance services in the UK. The City of London is a place close to my heart in that I have worked in or very near it for the last ten years’. Also known as ‘the square mile’ or sometimes just as ‘the city’ it is a pretty unique place with a corresponding unique local government.  

For anyone who has had the joy (as I have) of poring through local authority legislation the City of London Corporation and also the City of London Police almost always get listed separately as they are separate types of institution with a different legal form to all the other local authorities. I’ve heard the City of London described by some as almost a different country as it is so carved out from everywhere else. As an institution it is so old that there’s no record of anyone actually creating it. Originally the site of the old Roman City of Londinium, its special privileges are thought to originate from when pious Edward the Confessor made an abbey in the ‘West Minister’ outside of the old city a more important centre in 1065. The corporation was recognised by William the Conqueror and is one of only three parts of the Magna Carta that still form an active part of the law (Clause 13 in the 1215 charter: “the City of London shall have all the old Liberties and Customs which it hath been used to have.”). The fact that the area has lots of important businesses and makes lots of money then, as now, made it special. 

The City of London Corporation does do lots of the normal things the local authorities do. It cleans the streets and collects rubbish, it has libraries, it has a police force. Its website has a ‘Getting help with the cost of living’ link on its homepage. It runs one primary school, and also sends residents to academy schools it runs in nearby areas. Somewhat less usual for a local authority it also runs three private, fee paying schools. 

With a population of around 9,000 people almost no-one lives there. However, to more than make up for this 550,000 people (that’s one in every 56 British workers) work there. As I can personally testify, the pubs are closed on weekends, and if you accidently go there on a bank holiday you will be met only with tumbleweed and confused tourists. The area contributes £70bn a year in economic output and £1.2bn in business rates. 

Unlike anywhere else in the UK, businesses as well as residents can vote in Council elections. Registered voters can be sole traders or partners in unlimited partnerships who have worked at a city premises for at least a year. Any other type of business or organisation that is situated in the area can qualify to have voters, with the number of voters assigned depending on the size of the business. Voters do not have to be British, but do have to have also worked in the area or mainly in the area for a given period of time. Voters are also allowed to vote in local council elections where they live. 

The Corporation has two councils instead of one: the Court of Common Council whose members are Common Councillors and the Court of Aldermen whose members are Aldermen. The Court of Common Council is the nearest equivalent to a ‘normal’ council. The Court of Aldermen is chaired by the Lord Mayor and has a more ceremonial role. The majority of Common Councillors and Aldermen run as independents and are not members of mainstream political parties. In practice much of the day to day running and decision making of the authority is carried out by an intricate array of committees.  

The local authority is in a unique position of not only having to look after its many workers, and small number of residents, but also being a national and global ambassador for its interests and that of the UK financial services industry. I think you could safely say there’s no-where else quite like it. 

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