The nine local authority areas that are in the Charity’s Beneficial Area have quite distinct histories and are governed in different ways.
Formation of the Charity’s Nine London Boroughs
The City of London
The City of London has played a unique role in British history and economic life; it is its own ceremonial county and is one of two British Sui Generis entities (literally meaning “of its own kind”), the other being the Isles of Scilly. The City of London Corporation has some unusual responsibilities for a local authority in Britain, such as being the police authority for the City. It also has responsibilities and ownerships beyond the City’s boundaries.
The County of Middlesex
The other eight boroughs in the Charity’s Beneficial Area are made up of former parts of the County of Middlesex, which at the time comprised a number of smaller metropolitan boroughs.. In 1900 ten inner metropolitan boroughs became part of the County of London, whilst the outer metropolitan boroughs remained part of Middlesex. In 1963 the London Government Act abolished the County of Middlesex altogether, resulting in these outer metropolitan boroughs forming the following:
- London Borough of Harrow
- London Borough of Brent (formerly Wembley and Willesden)
- London Borough of Ealing (formerly Acton, Ealing and Southall)
- London Borough of Barnet (formerly Finchley, Hendon and Friern Barnet from Middlesex and East Barnet and Barnet Urban district from Hertfordshire)
The 1963 Act also replaced the County of London and the inner ten metropolitan boroughs merged in 1965 to create four London boroughs:
- St Pancras, Hampstead and Holborn became the London Borough of Camden
- Chelsea and Kensington formed the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea
- Hammersmith and Fulham formed from the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham
- Paddington, St Marylebone and the City of Westminster joined to form the City of Westminster
Politics in the Boroughs
While the City of London does not have a party political system, the other eight boroughs have seen a series of political changes over the years: the City of Westminster and the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea have been led by the Conservatives since their establishment in the 1960s; Barnet is also solidly Conservative, apart from a period of No Overall Control from 1994 to 2002.
However, the boroughs have not always conformed to party political ideology when considering spending money and in their relationship with the local voluntary sector; traditionally there is higher levels of spending and support for the voluntary sector under more left-wing councils. True blue Kensington & Chelsea has long been a strong supporter of the local voluntary sector with large transfers to local youth and educational charities. The borough is also committed to a large and well-staffed local authority. In contrast, Westminster and Barnet have followed a different policy towards the voluntary sector and community groups. Westminster has one of the lowest council tax rates in the UK and as a result has been committed to reducing transfers to the local voluntary sector. The same is the case in Barnet, where the council in recent times has aimed to reduce its size – earning itself the brand of ‘Easycouncil’, with options for pay as you go, more akin to the ideology of Ryanair than that of Disraeli.
Apart from short periods of Conservative rule and spells of No Overall Control, Camden has been ruled by the Labour Party and has long been known as a left-leaning and progressive borough; in the 1980s, Camden Town hall was known as the ‘Kremlin on the Euston Road’. Camden has been a significant funder of the voluntary sector which is reflected in the scale and diversity of voluntary initiatives in that borough.
The authorities of Brent and Hammersmith & Fulham have similar political histories to Camden where the Labour Party has tended to be the largest party in control. However, Brent has the lowest median salary of any London borough and is the joint-fourth-worst borough in London for levels of child poverty. Weak links between the council and the highly fragmented voluntary sector have led to a traditional underfunding of the sector and as a result the council has been less able to support local charities.
From 2006 until 2013, Hammersmith & Fulham was controlled by the Conservatives and merged some of its council functions into a ‘Tri-Borough’ Partnership with central London neighbours, Kensington & Chelsea and Westminster. With Labour gaining power in the borough in 2013, there is some uncertainty about the future direction. Over the years, Ealing and Harrow have swung between Labour and Conservative control, with a recent bias towards Labour. Ealing, which has a dynamic voluntary sector with strong empowered communities in places such as Southall, has been and continues to be a considerable funder of local groups. This is in contrast to Harrow, which has long been underfunded by central Government and as a result has been unable to support the voluntary sector to the same extent as the other boroughs.