In our final article in the Mayor’s budget series, London Assembly Conservative Group Leader Roger Evans discusses why Boris Johnson’s first budget is good for London and praises a new wave of GLA engagement with outer London.
With Londoners facing job losses and rising prices, the years of excess are firmly over and this should apply as much to the public sector as it does to the private. That is why council tax payers will welcome the decisive break with the past represented by the first Boris Johnson budget.
May seems so long ago now, but many will remember how Livingstone and his supporters boasted that the GLA was cost effective and predicted that a search for waste would end in failure. Nine months on even Labour’s pessimist in chief, John Biggs has been forced to admit that finding savings has proved relatively straightforward.
Scrapping Livingstone’s propaganda sheet, ‘The Londoner’, saved £3 million for a start. The marketing budgets for events like the Rise Festival and the London Freewheel Weekend were dramatically cut, yet more people attended than ever. Expensive foreign policy lunches and trips to Cuba and Venezuela were cancelled, and where travel had to take place – to Beijing for example – the size of the Mayor’s entourage was vastly reduced. Vacancies were slashed across the GLA core – some of the posts had been empty for years!
And the council tax freeze has been widely welcomed, not least by Labour and the Liberal Democrats. In Labour’s case this belated change of heart comes after eight years backing successive increases that saw the uncontrolled budget balloon by over 150%.
A clearer focus on value for money has led to City Hall doing less but doing it better. Five hundred extra police officers have been deployed to patrol buses and stations, and to crack down on the scourge of illegal minicabs. The Freedom Pass has been extended to enable 24 hour access, making a mockery of Labour claims that Boris would scrap a vital concession for older people.
And capital investment in real projects to benefit our city continues. Crossrail is on track, the East London Line is on its way to completion and plans to introduce a new bus, specifically tailored to London’s unique needs are well advanced. The first brand new fire station for many years is under construction in Havering. The Mayor’s Outer London Commission has meetings scheduled with a remit to consider the needs of suburban boroughs for the first time in the GLA’s short history.
Political opposition has been confused to say the least. Labour members grumbled but failed to produce an alternative budget, demonstrating their lack of vision and new ideas. The Liberals welcomed the freeze but demanded various uncosted gimmicks, in a vain search for headlines.
Only the Greens offered a fully costed proposal, with council tax up, congestion charge up to £10, and the £25 charge on family cars reinstated. With plans to retain the bendy buses and prevent the rephrasing of red traffic lights, their offer mirrored the last four years and was clearly what Livingstone would have inflicted on London had he won in May.
So it’s a good start, but there is more to be done. Real savings are still hidden away in the monoliths of TfL and the Metropolitan Police. Hard decisions need to be made about the future of many Livingstone era initiatives. A budget freeze is important because it sets the tone for a new, cost effective culture, in the approaching lean years.