Labour’s John Biggs says the last budget of Boris Johnson’s mayoralty is published against a back-drop of high unemployment, rising crime and increasingly unaffordable transport fares.
Our Labour alternative proposes to cut fares for hard-pressed commuters, better target police resources to fight crime, and funds skills and employment programmes to get Londoners back to work.
We support City Hall’s decision to follow local authorities across London in not putting up the GLA’s share of council tax this year. In tough economic times – while the saving may only amount to pennies – it is right that London’s government helps out where it can.
But while we support the precept freeze, the savings pale into insignificance next to Boris Johnson’s exorbitant bus, tube, train and tram fares. The household saving from not putting up the council tax is just 26p a month for an average family.
By contrast, a zone one to four travelcard now costs a commuter £30 a month more than it did when Boris Johnson was elected. Bus fares are up 50 per cent – from just 90p under Ken to £1.35 today. Overall, fares are up by a massive 26 per cent.
In more prosperous times, Londoners are less burdened by increases – unwelcome though they are. But with unemployment at record levels, wages stagnating and the price of other essentials like food and fuel rocketing, Boris Johnson’s fares are another cost Londoners simply cannot afford.
Labour’s alternative budget uses the extra money in Transport for London’s budget (thanks to unexpectedly high ridership and reduced costs) to cut fares. We have proposed a seven per cent cut in overall fares, an 11 per cent cut in bus fares and the re-introduction of the outer London travelcard Boris Johnson scrapped. We propose this to help the hardest pressed Londoners during a recession they had no hand in causing.
We also want to put more resources into the Met’s Safer Schools Teams and Safer Transport Teams and to cancel the Mayor’s planned cuts to the Safer Neighbourhood Teams, which Ken ensured were dedicated to every single ward in London.
We would cut the £100,000 a year plus pay of Boris Johnson’s top advisers. While pay has been frozen for most across the public sector, the Mayor has increased the number of City Hall staff on six-figure salaries by a huge 33 per cent.
Even in the year he refused to bring the pay of his lowest paid security and mail room staff in line with inflation – effectively cutting their pay – he gave huge rises to his advisers. One got a 50 per cent rise, taking her pay from £80,000 to £127,000. Another went from £82,000 to £110,000 a year – fives times the average Londoner’s income.
As the economy has tanked, so too has London’s business, skills and employment funding. The London Development Agency and most of the cash that came with it has gone. Youth unemployment in London has doubled since Boris’s election. So we would also create a City Hall joblessness taskforce and set up a targeted employment support fund to tackle unemployment in London, where one in ten are now out of work.
There are no easy answers. London is dealing with a tough budget settlement from a government that is cutting public spending far too severely – hurting the economy, increasing the deficit and costing jobs.
A Labour government would be doing the opposite and the Mayor of London would have more options.
But even with reduced budgets the Mayor has choices. He cut the police before this government was elected and has since reduced the number of Met officers by 1,700. He failed to make the case for economic development funding and he is choosing to put up fares by way more than inflation. This shows a Mayor who is out of touch with ordinary Londoners’ concerns.
Our budget shows that, in tough times, a different approach – one that protects the most vulnerable and keeps Londoners safe – is possible.