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The Royal Commission on Local Government in Greater London, also known as the Herbert Commission, was established in 1957 and published its report in 1960. The report made recommendations for the overhaul of the administration of the capital. They were modified and implemented by the London Government Act 1963.
The membership of the commission was notable for not containing anyone with previous involvement with local government in the London area.
The Commission’s terms of reference were to "examine the present system and working of Local Government in the Greater London area; to recommend whether any, and if so what, changes in local government structure and the distribution of local government functions in the area, or any part of it, would better secure effective and convenient local government."
The existing local authorities varied widely in population and size: the six county councils or county boroughs in the metropolitan area had similar responsibilities, but the number of inhabitants in their areas under their control varied from over 3,000,000 to 110,000. There were 102 county districts within the review area and these also varied greatly: some had larger populations and rateable value than existing county boroughs, while others had only a few thousand residents. Outside of the County of London, the division of functions between county councils and county districts was also unclear: some districts enjoyed considerable independence with a range of delegated “county” powers while similar districts did not. There were no set criteria for such delegation, which instead came about because of "fortuitous historical, political and personal factors", which led to "serious administrative friction" in some counties.
The Commission held 114 meetings, heard oral evidence on 70 occasions and asked nearly 16,000 questions. The Commission was also able to draw on the work of the Greater London Group of the London School of Economics, which had carried out an extensive survey on local government in London.
The evidence heard by the Commission was contradictory: the Ministry of Local Government and Housing depicted a system that was breaking down, but the local authorities vigorously defended the status quo.
In the absence of consensus, the Commission drew up two criteria by which to guide its recommendations:
By following these criteria a two-tier system was envisaged, with a regional authority for "technical" services and smaller local authorities for "personal" services. Many of the deliberations involved trying to find an optimum size for the sub-units of the proposed system. The general agreement of witnesses was that a basic "many-purpose" unit should have a population of between at least 250,000, many favouring a range of 500,000 to 1,500,000. It was stressed by council officers and teachers that authorities would need to be of a sufficiently large size to provide promotion prospects and attract good staff.
The Commission, however, favoured smaller units because of the second criterion: large authorities, it was felt, would be remote from their citizens. It also hoped that smaller local authorities would encourage greater participation in local elections. The Commission displayed a dislike of "bigness", in particular describing the London County Council as "massive", "inhuman" and "monolithic".
Three criteria were used by the commission to consider if places on the periphery should be included in the review area. They were extent to which a locality was independent and freestanding the closeness of links with the capital and the outlook of the district towards or away from London. In 1960 the commission deleted Potters Bar and all parts of Hertfordshire aside from Cheshunt, Barnet and East Barnet from the review area.
The Report of the Royal Commission on Local Government in Greater London, 1957–60, (Cmnd. 1164) was published on 19 October 1960. The recommendations in the unanimous report were:
The Commission did not include the entire review area within its proposed Greater London region: they excluded Aldenham, Bushey, Chorleywood, Dartford, Elstree, Northaw, Potters Bar, Rickmansworth, Waltham Holy Cross, Watford and Watford Rural.
The report proposed a total of fifty-two Greater London Boroughs, to be formed from the following existing areas:
By May 1961, the government had announced that a number of areas on the edge of the conurbation would be excluded from Greater London. It published a white paper on 29 November 1961 that accepted most of the recommendations. However, it felt education should be a borough-level function in most parts of the capital, with a single authority for central London. It also proposed larger, fewer boroughs. In December, the government proposed that 34 boroughs, rather than 52, and detailed their boundaries. By the time of the introduction of legislation in 1962, the number of boroughs had been reduced to 32, and the area of Greater London again reduced by the exclusion of Banstead, Caterham and Warlingham, Cheshunt, Chigwell (except Hainault), Epsom and Ewell, Esher, Staines, Sunbury-on-Thames, and Walton and Weybridge.