There are two distinct entities that are London; the City of London which is administered by the Corporation of London, and the Metropolitan County of Greater London which is administered by the Greater London Authority, or GLA. The City of London is one of the 33 boroughs that make up the Metropolitan County of Greater London - it is only about one square mile in area. When people talk of London they are normally referring to the conurbation - ie, the urban region which includes adjacent towns and suburbs - that makes up the Metropolitan County of Greater London.
The Corporation of London is the oldest local authority in England, founded in medieval times and based on the French model, with the maire ('mayor') at its head. The Corporation predates even the English parliament with the original parliamentary structure based on the Corporation's Court of Common Council.
Today the Corporation is a non-party political body which is elected using methods that date, in the most part, from the medieval period. In many respects it is a genuine piece of living history. It is responsible for the local government of the main business district (sometimes known as the 'Square Mile') at the heart of the modern conurbation of London. This also roughly corresponds to the area that was enclosed by the walls of the Roman city of Londinium. Additionally, the Corporation is responsible for certain parks and heaths outside its boundaries.
Governing of the City
The Corporation is governed by the Lord Mayor (who is also an Alderman), 24 Aldermen and 112 members of the Court of Common Council. These all stand as independents and work on a voluntary basis.
The Court of Common Council
This is the primary decision-making body of the Corporation and it is unique among English local governments in being non-party political. Elections are held every year in December when all the seats are up for election, with each ward electing between four and 12 members, known as 'Commoners'. Only those who are freemen of the City and who are on the electoral roll of the City of London are allowed to vote. To become a freeman (or woman) a person needs to be: nominated by two sponsors who will be Common Councilmen of the City of London, Aldermen or members of a Livery Company; be presented by a Livery Company; be a child of a freeman; or serve an apprenticeship with one of the city's Livery Companies.
The Court of Aldermen
The full Aldermanic Court, which meets about nine times a year, is summoned and presided over by the Lord Mayor. An Alderman automatically becomes a Justice of the Peace for the City of London, and also serves on Common Council committees, acts as a governor and trustee of a variety of charitable foundations and trusts with ancient city connections. Aldermen are currently elected by the Livery Companies (the modern descedants of the medieval trade guilds), but the Corporation with Parliament are currently reviewing the electoral laws of the city.
The Lord Mayor
It is important to note that the 'Lord Mayor of London' is not the same as the 'Mayor of London'. The Lord Mayor of London is the head of the Corporation of London; the Mayor of London is the head of the GLA.
The election of the Lord Mayor of London has taken place on Michaelmas Day (29 September) since 1546. The Lord Mayor chairs the Corporation's governing bodies and is also Chief Magistrate of the City of London, Admiral of the Port of London, and Chancellor of City University. The Lord Mayor is elected by Aldermen from a list of candidates nominated by the Livery Companies.
In the modern era, Lord Mayors tend to only serve for one year, although this wasn't always the case; the city's most famous Lord Mayor, Dick Whittington, served four times; in 1397, 1398, 1407 and 1420.
The Corporation Today
Today the Corporation is responsible for the services any other local authority would be expected to provide, from housing and markets to refuse collection and highways maintenance, and all that is in-between. Additionally it also has responsibilities that in the rest of London are handled by the GLA, such as policing; the City of London is policed by the City of London Police, while most of the rest of London is policed by the Metropolitan Police.
Today the Corporation derives income from three main sources:
The City Fund
This is all the public money the Corporation gets from sources such as council tax (a domestic property tax), business rates (of which the Corporation keeps only a small portion, the majority being distributed to other local authorities), Revenue Support Grant, and other government grants.
This fund originated in the 13th Century but has been added to over the centuries. Today it is used to fund the Lord Mayor's activities, the city's markets (Smithfield, Billingsgate and Leadenhall), the management and conservation of over 10,000 acres of open space around the conurbation of London, and to fund three independent schools and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
Bridge House Estates
This fund has been used for centuries to maintain the bridges1 of the city of London, today it is a charitable trust with the Corporation as its trustee.