Greater London Council

Greater London Council

Infobox UK local authority
name = Greater London Council
hq = County Hall, Lambeth
area = Greater London
start = 1 April 1965
end = 31 March 1986
lawstart = London Government Act 1963
lawend = Local Government Act 1985

type = County council
The Greater London Council (GLC) was the top-tier local government administrative body for Greater London from 1965 to 1986. It replaced the earlier London County Council (LCC) which had covered a much smaller area.


The Labour Party had controlled the LCC from 1934 and by the 1950s the Conservative Government considered that elections were becoming one-sided, since the London County Council (LCC) covered only the inner (generally Labour-voting) districts. The government sought to create a new body covering all of London.

A Royal Commission was set up under Sir Edwin Herbert in 1957 and reported in 1960, recommending the creation of 52 new London boroughs as the basis for local government. It further recommended that the LCC be replaced by a weaker strategic authority, with responsibility for public transport, road schemes, housing development and regeneration.

The recommendations were accepted in most part, but the number of new boroughs reduced instead to 32. Greater London covered the counties of London and most of Middlesex, plus parts of Essex, Kent and Surrey, a small part of Hertfordshire and the County Borough of Croydon, County Borough of East Ham and County Borough of West Ham which had been independent of county control.

Some areas on the boundary of the area fought successfully to be excluded from it, notably the Sunbury-on-Thames Urban District, Staines Urban District and Potters Bar Urban District of Middlesex, fearing increased local taxation. Other areas in the Report that were not eventually made part of Greater London included Epsom and Ewell, Caterham and Warlingham, Esher, and Weybridge.

GLC councillors elected for the LCC area became ex officio members of the Inner London Education Authority, which took over the LCC responsibility for education; in outer London, the London boroughs each operated as a local education authority.


The GLC was responsible for running strategic services such as the fire service, emergency planning, waste disposal and flood prevention. The GLC shared responsibility with the London boroughs for providing roads, housing, city planning and leisure services. It had a very limited role in direct service provision with most functions the responsibility of the London boroughs. The GLC did not take control of public transport from the London Transport Board until 1970 and lost control to London Regional Transport in 1984.

Under the 1963 Act, the GLC was required to produce a "Greater London Development Plan". The plan included in its wide ranging remit: population changes, employment, housing, pollution, transport, roads, the central area, growth and development areas, urban open spaces and the urban landscape, public services and utilities and planning standards. The plan included the comprehensive redevelopment of Covent Garden and creating a central London motorway loop. The plan was subject to an Inquiry which lasted from July 1970 until May 1972. [ [ British Official Publications Collaborative Reader Information Service] - Greater London development plan: report of the panel of inquiry] The campaign to save Covent Garden along with various opposition on other matters largely derailed the plan.

Political control

All the six of the GLC elections were won by the leading opposition party nationally, with the party in government nationally coming second in the GLC elections.

The first GLC election was on 9 April 1964, with each of the new boroughs electing a number of representatives. Despite Conservative hopes, the first GLC consisted of 64 Labour and 36 Conservative councillors and Labour Group leader Bill Fiske became the first Leader of the Council.

At the next election in 1967 the unpopularity of the national government produced a massive Conservative victory with 82 seats, to 18 for Labour. Desmond Plummer became the first Conservative leader of London-wide government in 33 years. The Conservatives retained control in 1970 with a reduced majority.

In 1972 the electoral system was reformed to introduce single-member constituencies for the election after the 1973 contest, and extend the term of office to four years. Labour fought the 1973 election on a strongly socialist platform and won with 57 seats to 33 for the Conservatives. The Liberal Party won two seats.

The GLC's hopes under the Labour administration of Reg Goodwin were badly affected by the oil crisis of 1974. Massive inflation combined with the GLC's £1.6 billion debt led to heavy rate increases (200% in total before the next election in 1977) and unpopular budget cuts. Some months before the 1977 elections the Labour Group began to split. A left group, including Ken Livingstone, denounced the election manifesto of the party.

The Conservatives regained control in May 1977, winning 64 seats under their new Thatcherite leader Horace Cutler to a Labour total of just 28. Cutler headed a resolutely right-wing administration, cutting spending, selling council housing and deprioritising London Transport. In opposition the Labour party continued to fractionalise: Goodwin resigned suddenly in 1980 and in the following leadership contest the little-regarded left-winger Ken Livingstone was only just beaten in an intensely tactical campaign by the moderate Andrew McIntosh. However the Labour left were strong at constituency level and as the 1981 election approached they worked to ensure that their members were selected to stand and that their ideologies shaped the manifesto. The eventual manifesto topped out at over 50,000 words.

The May 1981 election was presented as a clash of ideologies by the Conservatives - Thatcherism against a 'tax high, spend high' Marxist Labour group, claiming that Andrew McIntosh would be deposed by Ken Livingstone after the election. McIntosh and Labour Party leader Michael Foot insisted this was untrue, and the Labour party won a very narrow victory with a majority of six. At a pre-arranged meeting of the new Councillors the day after the election, the Left faction won a complete victory over the less-organised Labour right. McIntosh lost with 20 votes to 30 for Ken Livingstone. Livingstone, dubbed 'Red Ken' by some newspapers, managed to gain the guarded support of the Labour deputy leader Illtyd Harrington and the party Chief Whip and set about his new administration.

Livingstone was able to push through the majority of his policies and became surprisingly popular (only 16% of Londoners wanted the GLC abolished).Fact|date=June 2008 The increased spending of the council led the national government to reduce and eventually end the GLC's central government grant as punishment.

Elections to the GLC



Livingstone's high-spend socialist policies put the GLC into direct conflict with Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government. Livingstone soon became a thorn in the side of the sitting Conservative government. He deliberately antagonised Thatcher through a series of actions (including posting a billboard of London's rising unemployment figures on the side of County Hall, directly opposite Parliament), reducing London Underground and bus fares using government subsidies, entering into dialogue with Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams at a time when Adams was banned from entering Britain due to his links with the Provisional Irish Republican Army, and endorsing a statue of Nelson Mandela while Thatcher regarded the future South African president as a terrorist.

By 1983, the government argued for the abolition of the GLC, claiming that it was inefficient and unnecessary, and that its functions could be carried out more efficiently by the boroughs. The arguments for this case which were detailed in the White Paper "Streamlining the cities". Critics of this position argued that the GLC's abolition (as with that of the Metropolitan County Councils) was politically motivated, claiming that it had become a powerful vehicle for opposition to Margaret Thatcher's government. The Local Government Act 1985, which abolished the GLC, faced considerable opposition from many quarters but was narrowly passed in Parliament, setting the end of the council for 31 March 1986. It also cancelled the scheduled May 1985 elections. This turned the last term of the GLC into an attempt to find employment for their 22,000-strong workforce and for the distribution of the council's assets to 'friendly' boroughs. GLC assets were assigned to the quango London Residuary Body for disposal, including County Hall, which was sold to a Japanese entertainment company and now houses the London Aquarium, amongst other things.

The Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) continued in existence for a few years, and direct elections to it were held, but ILEA was finally also disbanded in 1990.


Most of the powers of the GLC were devolved to the London boroughs. Some powers, such as the fire service, were taken over by joint boards made up of councillors appointed by the boroughs - see waste authorities in Greater London for an example. In total, around 100 organisations were responsible for service delivery in Greater London. [Atkinson, H. & Wilks-Heeg, S., "Local Government from Thatcher to Blair: The Politics of Creative Autonomy", (2000)]

Tony Blair's Labour government was elected in 1997, and was committed to bringing back London-wide government. In 1999 a referendum was held on the establishment of a new London authority and elected mayor, which was approved by a two to one margin.

The new Greater London Authority (GLA) was established in 2000. The GLA has a very different structure to the GLC, consisting of a directly elected Mayor of London and a London Assembly. The Mayor of London elections were won by the same Ken Livingstone, who began his victory speech with the words: "As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted 14 years ago".

Leaders of the GLC

*Bill Fiske 1964-67
*Desmond Plummer 1967-73
*Sir Reg Goodwin 1973-77
*Sir Horace Cutler 1977-81
*Andrew McIntosh 7th - 8th May 1981
*Ken Livingstone 1981-84
*John Wilson 1984
*Ken Livingstone 1984-86

ee also

*List of Greater London Council committee chairs
*Members of the Greater London Council
*OXO Tower – controversially sold by the GLC for £750,000 in 1984.
* – satire of the GLC politics by The Comic Strip


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