Assembly Members raise scrutiny concerns as Khan dodges meeting


London Assembly members have demanded Sadiq Khan answer their questions on the coronavirus pandemic – after he declined to attend the Assembly’s first committee during lockdown.

Mr Khan was invited to an Oversight Committee meeting on London’s response to the virus, due to take place on 7 May.

A spokesperson for the Mayor said he is too busy to attend this week, and Deputy Mayor Fiona Twycross will appear in his place.

But Assembly members say Mr Khan was slow to respond to their request, and must face scrutiny on his handling of the crisis.

Coronavirus has hit London harder than any other region of the UK, with almost 5,000 deaths in the capital.

A sharp drop in passengers has seen Transport for London (TfL) haemmorhage fare revenue, and the transport network is almost out of cash.

And London police – like other forces – now have new powers to fine the public for breaking the Covid-19 lockdown.

Conservative group leader Susan Hall said it is “completely outrageous” and “quite frankly disgusting” that the Mayor won’t attend this week’s meeting.

“He’s supposed to be a leader and leaders lead from the front,” she said. “We’ve got TfL on its knees, we’ve got a national crisis, and he should be there representing us.”

The last time Mr Khan appeared before the Assembly was Mayor’s Question Time on 19 March – before lockdown began.

No further meetings were planned until this month, because ordinarily the Assembly would have shut down in the run up to the Mayoral election.

But the vote – due to take place this Thursday – was postponed in March until 2021 because of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Ms Hall said in the exceptional circumstances the Mayor could have updated members sooner.

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The Assembly has been setting up technology to live-stream virtual meetings hosted via Microsoft Teams, and a test of the system was carried out last week.

But Ms Hall claimed the Mayor was ultimately responsible for the delay in holding the first meeting in lockdown.

An Assembly source confirmed that Mr Khan’s team were approached informally about the Oversight Committee meeting four to five weeks ago – but were slow to respond.

Ms Hall said the Assembly was willing to work around the Mayor’s availability, and asked for just a half hour appearance.

“Coronavirus is not an excuse to suspend democracy in our city,” she said. “I know there were no meetings planned, but we’ve had a national emergency since then. The election has been put off and democracy should still happen.”

Liberal Democrat Caroline Pidgeon said accountability and answering questions were part of the Mayor’s “fundamental role”.

“Holding meetings in a different format and being flexible about arrangements will of course be necessary,” she said. “But ultimately there can be no excuses for the Mayor not stepping up to the plate and fulfilling his duties.”

Green Assembly member Sian Berry said “the most important thing” was ensuring the Mayor attends Mayor’s Question Time later this month.

“It’s important that we get these meetings going whether he’s coming or not,” she said. “We would have liked to have held this first meeting sooner.”

Ms Berry said assembly members had received briefings from the Mayor’s team “on a regular basis” but there were important questions that need to be asked.

“It’s so important that we get scrutiny back,” she added. “Without knowing you’re going to be held to account publicly, people make bad decisions. It’s just a fact of life – that’s why we have opposition.”

A spokesperson for the Mayor said Mr Khan would appear at Mayor’s Question Time later this month, and accused opposition members of “petty party politics”.

He said: “Sadiq has asked his Deputy Mayor for Fire and Resilience, Fiona Twycross, to attend the Assembly’s Oversight Committee this week to answer questions on his behalf because he is exceptionally busy working with the Government to prepare London for the easing of lockdown.”

Mr Khan will be in front of the London Assembly to answer their questions as usual at Mayor’s Question Time in two weeks‘ time.

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