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Common Council of the City of London

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Common Council of the City of London

Mayor and Commonalty and Citizens of the City of London
City of London Corporation
Type Local authority of the City of London
Lord Mayor Roger Gifford
Since 9 November 2012
Town Clerk & Chief Executive John Barradell OBE
Since 16 September 2012
Policy Chairman Mark Boleat
Since 3 May 2012
Deputy Policy Chairman Stuart Fraser CBE
Since 3 May 2012
Chief Commoner Kenneth Ayers MBE
Since April 2012
Seats 100 Common Councilmen
25 Aldermen
Court of Aldermen Political groups All Independent
Court of Common Council Political groups All Independent
Court of Aldermen Committees Privileges Committee, General Purposes Committee
Court of Common Council committees Policy & Resources Committee, Finance Committee, Investment Committee, Planning & Transportation Committee, Port Health & Environmental Services Committee, Markets Committee, Police Committee, Culture Heritage & Libraries Committee, Community & Children's Services Committee, Gresham Committee, Epping Forest & Commons Committee, Open Spaces Committee, Establishment Committee, Barbican Residential Committee, Hampstead Heath Committee, City Bridge Trust Committee, Standards Committee, Licensing Committee, Audit & Risk Management Committee, Boards: City of London School, City of London School for Girls, City of London Freemen's School, Guildhall School of Music & Drama, Barbican Centre, Museum of London
Court of Aldermen Last election Varies – individual mandate, up to 6 year term of office
Court of Common Council Last election March 2013 – 4 year term of office
Meeting place
Guildhall, London
British politics portal

The City of London Corporation, officially and legally the Mayor and Commonalty and Citizens of the City of London, is the municipal governing body of the City of London, the historic centre of London and the location of much of the UK's financial sector. Until 2006, when the name was changed to avoid confusion with the wider London local government authority, the Greater London Authority, it was informally known as the Corporation of London.[1]

The corporation claims to be the world's oldest continuously elected local government body. Both businesses and residents of the City, or "Square Mile", are entitled to vote in elections, and in addition to its functions as the local authority – analogous to those undertaken by the boroughs that administer the rest of London – it takes responsibility for supporting the financial services industry and representing its interests.[2] The corporation's structure includes the Lord Mayor, the Court of Aldermen, the Court of Common Council and the Freemen and Livery of the City.


In Anglo-Saxon times, communication and consultation between the city's rulers and its citizens took place at the Folkmoot. Administration and judicial processes were conducted at the Court of Husting and the non-legal part of the court's work evolved into the Court of Aldermen.[3]

There is no surviving record of a charter first establishing the corporation as a legal body, but the city is regarded as incorporated by prescription, meaning that the law presumes it to have been incorporated because it has for so long been regarded as such even in the absence of written documentation (see, e.g., Magna Carta's proclamation that "the city of London shall have/enjoy its ancient liberties").[4] The corporation's first recorded royal charter dates from around 1067, when William the Conqueror granted the citizens of London a charter confirming the rights and privileges that they had enjoyed since the time of Edward the Confessor. Numerous subsequent royal charters over the centuries confirmed and extended the citizens' rights.[5]

Around 1189, the city gained the right to have its own mayor, eventually coming to be known as the Lord Mayor of London. Over time, the Court of Aldermen sought increasing help from the city's commoners and this was eventually recognised with commoners being represented by the Court of Common Council, known by that name since at least as far back as 1376.[6] The earliest records of the business habits of the city's Chamberlains and Common Clerks, and the proceedings of the Courts of Common Council and Aldermen, begin in 1275, and are recorded in fifty volumes known as the Letter-Books of the City of London.[7]

With growing demands on the corporation and a corresponding need to raise local taxes from the commoners, the Common Council grew in importance and has been the principal governing body of the corporation since the 18th century.

In January 1898, the Common Council gained the full right to collect local rates when the City of London Sewers Act 1897 transferred the powers and duties of the Commissioners of Sewers of the City of London to the Corporation. A separate Commission of Sewers was created for the City of London after the Great Fire, and as well as the construction of drains it had responsibility for the prevention of flooding; paving, cleaning and lighting the City of London's streets; and churchyards and burials. The individual commissioners were previously nominated by the Corporation, but it was a separate body. The Corporation had earlier limited rating powers in relation to raising funds for the City of London Police, as well as the militia rate and some rates in relation to the general requirements of the Corporation.

The corporation is unique among UK local authorities for its continuous legal existence over many centuries, and for having the power to alter its own constitution, which is done by an Act of Common Council.[8]

Local authority role

Local government legislation often makes special provision for the City to be treated as a London borough and for the Common Council to act as a local authority. The Corporation does not have general authority over the Middle Temple and the Inner Temple, two of the Inns of Court adjoining the west of the City which are historic extra-parochial areas, but many statutory functions of the Corporation are extended into these two areas.

The Chief Executive of the administrative side of the Corporation holds the ancient office of Town Clerk of London.

The High Officers and other officials

Because of its extensive wealth and responsibilities the Corporation has a number of officers and officials unique to its structure who enjoy more autonomy from each other with separate purses:

1. The Town Clerk, who is also the Chief Executive.

2. The Chamberlain, the City Treasurer and Finance Officer, the incumbent is also a bank having a BACS Sort Code.

3. The City Remembrancer, who is responsible for protocol, ceremonial, security issues as well as legislative matters that may effect the Corporation and is legally qualified (usually a Barrister).

4. The Comptroller and City Solicitor; legal officer.

5. The Recorder of London, the senior judge at the Central Criminal Court 'Old Bailey' who is technically a member of the Court of Aldermen; but without precedence, he processes between the senior Aldermen, i.e., past Lord Mayors, and the junior Aldermen.

6. The Common Serjeant, the second senior judge at the Central Criminal Court 'Old Bailey', technically the legal adviser to the Common Council (i.e., Serjeant at Law to the Commoners).

There are others:

a) The Esquires at the Mansion House; The City Marshall, the Sword Bearer and the Common Crier/ Mace Bearer; these run the Lord Mayor's official residence, the office and accompany him on all occasions, usually senior military officers with diplomatic experience.

b) The Chief Commoner who is elected by the Common Councillors alone and serves for one year; until recently chaired all of the Bridge House Estates and property matters committees but is now honorific.

c) The Ward Beadles; responsible to a specific Ward from which they are elected, largely ceremonial support to their respective Aldermen and also perform a formal role at Ward Motes.


The City of London Corporation was not reformed by the Municipal Corporations Act 1835, because it had a more extensive electoral franchise than any other borough or city; in fact, it widened this further with its own equivalent legislation allowing one to become a freeman without being a liveryman. In 1801, the City had a population of about 130,000, but increasing development of the City as a central business district led to this falling to below 5,000 after the Second World War.[9] It has risen slightly to around 9,000 since, largely due to the development of the Barbican Estate. As it not been affected by other municipal legislation over the period of time since then, its electoral practice has become increasingly anomalous.

Therefore, the non-residential vote (or business vote), that had been abolished in the rest of the country in 1969, became an increasingly large part of the electorate. The non-residential vote system used disfavoured incorporated companies. The City of London (Ward Elections) Act 2002 greatly increased the business franchise, allowing many more businesses to be represented. In 2009, the business vote was about 24,000, greatly exceeding residential voters.[10]


Eligible voters[11] must be at least 18 years old and a citizen of the United Kingdom, a European Union country, or a Commonwealth country, and either:

  • A resident
  • A sole trader or a partner in an unlimited partnership or
  • An appointee of a qualifying body.

Each body or organisation, whether unincorporated or incorporated, whose premises are within the City of London may appoint a number of voters based on the number of workers it employs. Limited liability partnerships fall into this category.

Bodies employing fewer than ten workers may appoint one voter, those employing ten to fifty workers may appoint one voter for every five; those employing more than fifty workers may appoint ten voters and one additional voter for every fifty workers beyond the first fifty.

Though workers count as part of a workforce regardless of nationality, only certain individuals may be appointed as voters. Under section 5 of the City of London (Ward Elections) Act 2002, the following are eligible to be appointed as voters (the qualifying date is 1 September of the year of the election):

  • Those who have worked for the body for the past year at premises in the City
  • Those who have served on the body's board of directors for the past year at premises in the City
  • Those who have worked in the City for the body for an aggregate total of five years
  • Those who have worked for in the City for a total of ten years

Qualified voters can vote twice, once at local government elections in the City and once at local government elections in the district where their home address is situated. Residents of the City can only vote once.


The City of London is divided into twenty-five wards, each of which is an electoral division, electing one Alderman and a number of Councilmen based on the size of the electorate. The numbers below reflect the changes caused by the City of London (Ward Elections) Act and a recent ward boundary review.

Ward Common Councilmen
Aldersgate 6
Aldgate 5
Bassishaw 2
Billingsgate 2
Bishopsgate 6
Bread Street 2
Bridge 2
Broad Street 3
Candlewick 2
Castle Baynard 8
Cheap 3
Coleman Street 4
Cordwainer 3
Cornhill 3
Cripplegate 8
Dowgate 2
Farringdon Within 8
Farringdon Without 10
Langbourn 3
Lime Street 4
Portsoken 4
Queenhithe 2
Tower 4
Vintry 2
Walbrook 2
Total 100

Livery companies

There are over one hundred livery companies in London. The companies were originally guilds or trade associations. The senior members of the livery companies, known as liverymen, form a special electorate known as Common Hall. Common Hall is the body that chooses the Lord Mayor of the City, the sheriffs and certain other officers.

The Court of Aldermen

Main article: Court of Aldermen

Wards originally elected aldermen for life, but the term is now only six years. The alderman may, if he chooses, submit to an election before the six-year period ends. In any case, an election must be held no later than six years after the previous election. The sole qualification for the office is that Aldermen must be Freemen of the City.

Aldermen are ex officio Justices of the Peace. All Aldermen also serve in the Court of Common Council.

The Court of Common Council

The Court of Common Council, also known as the Common Council of the City of London, is formally referred to as the mayor, aldermen, and commons of the City of London in common council assembled.[12]

Each ward may choose a number of common councilmen. A Common Councilman must be a registered voter in a City ward, own a freehold or lease land in the City, or reside in the City for the year prior to the election. He must also be over 21; a Freeman of the City; and a British, Irish, Commonwealth or EU citizen. Common Council elections are held every four years, most recently in March 2009. Common Councilmen may use the initials CC after their names.

The Common Council is the police authority for the City of London,[13] a police area that covers the City including the Inner Temple & Middle Temple and which has its own police force – the City of London Police – separate from the Metropolitan Police, which polices the remainder of Greater London.

The Lord Mayor and the Sheriffs

The Lord Mayor of London and the two Sheriffs are chosen by liverymen meeting in Common Hall. Sheriffs, who serve as assistants to the Lord Mayor, are chosen on Midsummer Day. The Lord Mayor, who must have previously been a Sheriff, is chosen on Michaelmas. Both the Lord Mayor and the Sheriffs are chosen for terms of one year.

The Lord Mayor fulfills several roles:

The ancient and continuing office of Lord Mayor of London (with responsibility for the City of London) should not be confused with the office of Mayor of London (responsible for the whole of Greater London and created in 2000).

Ceremonies and traditions

The City of London has a strong collection of ceremonies. Its policy head says "it is undoubtedly the case that we have more tradition and pageantry than most",[14] for example the yearly Lord Mayor's Show.

Tax journalist Nicholas Shaxson said, "Whenever the Queen makes a state entry to the City, she meets a red cord raised by City police at Temple Bar, and then engages in a col­ourful ceremony involving the lord mayor, his sword, assorted aldermen and sheriffs, and a character called the Remembrancer. In this ceremony, the lord mayor recognises the Queen's authority, but the relationship is complex: as the corporation itself says: "The right of the City to run its own affairs was gradually won as concessions were gained from the Crown.""[15]

There are eight formal ceremonies involving the Corporation:-

  1. Midsummer Common Hall for the election of the Sheriffs (24 June or nearest week day.)
  2. Admission of the Sheriffs, their oath taking (the nearest week day to the Michaelmas date)
  3. Michaelmas Common Hall for the election of Lord Mayor (29 September or nearest week day.)
  4. Admission of the Lord Mayor, the so called 'Silent Ceremony' (Friday before the Lord Mayor's Show)
  5. Lord Mayor's Show; formally, "the Procession of the Lord Mayor for Presentation to the Lord Chief Justice and Queen's Remembrancer at the Royal Courts of Justice". (the Saturday after the second Friday in November)
  6. The Ward Motes; elections in the City Wards and general meeting of the Ward in non-election years. (third Friday in March)
  7. The Spital Sermon; literally a Sermon in the Guildhall Church, delivered by a senior ecclesiastic on behalf of the Christ's Hospital and Bridwell Hospital ('King Edward's School') (a day in Schools Term between March and May)
  8. United Guilds Service involves all of the Livery Companies Masters, the Lord Mayor, Sheriffs, the Aldermen and High Officers. This is the newest having been instituted in 1943, it is the responsibility of a special trust fund operating from Fishmongers Hall. (usually in March but not conflicting with Holy Week).

Conservation areas and green spaces

The City of London Corporation maintains around 10,000 acres (40 km2) of public green spaces[16] – mainly conservation areas / nature reserves – in Greater London and the surrounding counties. The most well-known of the conservation areas are Hampstead Heath and Epping Forest. Other areas include Ashtead Common, Burnham Beeches, Highgate Wood and the City Commons (seven commons in south London).[17][18]

Unusually, the Corporation also runs the unheated Parliament Hill Lido, as it is part of Hampstead Heath which the London Residuary Body with the agreement of the London Boroughs gave into the safekeeping of the City, for the benefit of the public, in 1989.

The City also owns and manages two traditional city parks: Queen's Park and West Ham Park as well as over 150 smaller public green spaces.

None of these facilities cost the local authorities, where they are situated, or their council tax payers anything.


The City of London has only one directly-maintained primary school.[19] The school is called the Sir John Cass's Foundation Primary School (ages 4 to 11).[20] The school is the only voluntary-aided Church of England primary school in the City of London. The school is maintained by the Education Service of the City of London.

City of London residents may send their children to schools in neighbouring Local Education Authorities (LEAs).

For secondary schools children enroll in schools in neighbouring LEAs, such as Islington, Tower Hamlets, Westminster and Southwark. Children who have permanent residence in the city of London are eligible for transfer to the City of London Academy, an independent secondary school sponsored by the City of London that is located in Southwark.

The City of London controls three other independent schools – the City of London School for Boys, the City of London School for Girls, and the co-educational City of London Freemen's School. The Lord Mayor also holds the posts of Chancellor of City University and President of Gresham College, an institute of advanced study.

The Guildhall School of Music and Drama is owned and funded by the Corporation.


The City of London has been granted various special privileges since the Norman Conquest, such as the right to run its own affairs,[21][22] partly due to the power of its financial capital. These are also mentioned by the Statute of William and Mary in 1690.[23]

Author and journalist Nicholas Shaxson argues that, in return for raising loans and finance for the British government, the City "has extracted privileges and freedoms from rules and laws to which the rest of Britain must submit" that have left the corporation "different from any other local authority". He argues that the assistance provided to the institutions based in its jurisdiction, many of which help their rich clients with offshore tax arrangements, mean that the corporation is "a tax haven in its own right".[24] Writing in The Guardian, George Monbiot argued that the corporation's power "helps to explain why regulation of the banks is scarcely better than it was before the crash, why there are no effective curbs on executive pay and bonuses and why successive governments fail to act against the UK's dependent tax havens" and suggested that its privileges could not withstand proper "public scrutiny".[25]

In the past, the Labour Party has pledged to abolish the corporation. Former British Prime Minister Clement Attlee wrote, "Over and over again we have seen that there is in this country another power than that which has its seat at Westminster. The City of London, a convenient term for a collection of financial interests, is able to assert itself against the Government of the country. Those who control money can pursue a policy at home and abroad contrary to that which has been decided by the people."[26] When he became Prime Minister he nationalised the Bank of England.

In December 2012, following criticism that it was insufficiently transparent about its finances, the City of London Corporation revealed that its "City’s Cash" account – an endowment fund built up over the past 800 years that it says is used "for the benefit of London as a whole"[27] – holds more than £1.3bn. The fund collects money made from the corporation’s property and investment earnings.[28]

See also


External links

  • City of London website
  • Green spaces run by the City of London
  • London Metropolitan Archives Leaflet on the Court of Common Council
  • profile
  • John McDonnell in House of Commons 1999 debate
  • Critical article in The Guardian about the City of London Corporation, titled "The medieval, unaccountable Corporation of London is ripe for protest" (31 October 2011)
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