As widely expected, the London Assembly today voted to accept Boris Johnson’s first Greater London Authority Budget.
Under GLA rules the budget passes unless opposition Assembly Members can muster a two thirds majority of the 25-strong Assembly against it, a mathematical impossibility given the presence of 11 Conservative AMs.
The meeting started with AMs questioning Mayor Johnson over his budget proposals. The Mayor, who at times has seemed underbriefed during his regular Question Time sessions, seemed uncertain of his ground when told by Labour’s John Biggs that his predecessor had made greater savings in his last two budgets than Johnson was now boasting of.
When the Mayor said he was prepared to “direct” spending by the London Development Agency, Green Party AM Darren Johnson suggested he was guilty of using the LDA as his “cheque book”, a reference to the criticism Mayor Johnson made of Ken Livingstone.
In a statement issued after the meeting Mr Johnson AM said: “A direction to the LDA over home insulation is opening the mayor to the same accusations of ‘pet projects’ which he threw at the previous administration. The reason why the mayor is in this situation of considering directing the LDA, it is because he hasn’t been clear on his vision for London’s environment.”
In response to accusation, Mayor Johnson said his administration was taking decisions in a more “open” manner than was the case under Mr Livingstone.
The Mayor also said he was committed to delivering “on frontline services and to tackle the big issues like crime and safety, whilst also providing value for money and keeping taxes as low as possible.”
Not for the first time, there were disappointed looks on the faces of some Conservative Assembly Members when the Mayor declined to promise cuts in the GLA Council Tax precept in future years.
During last year’s election Mr Johnson wrongly predicted that the winner would find “the BNP having a deciding vote on the Mayor’s budget”. The remarks, made in an Early Day Motion in the House of Comomons, led to suggestions that he didn’t understand the role of the London Assembly in setting the Greater London Authority budget.
Today Mayor declined to respond directly to questions from the BNP’s Richard Barnbrook, opting instead to answer through the Chair.
After a disappointingly short question session the Mayor left the Chamber while the Assembly debated the budget ahead of their vote. Several times this section of the meeting descended into an embarrassing shambles as AMs on all sides shouted across the Chamber and heckled one another.
Conservative AMs questioned the lack of fully costed alternative proposals from Labour and the Liberal Democrats, with Labour accused of adopting a “the dog ate my homework” approach.
In response Mr Biggs said that, in respecting the outcome of May’s elections, his party wasn’t under any obligation to put forward an alternative budget.
Speaking after the meeting Mr Tuffrey, Liberal Democrat Assembly Group leader, said he welcomed the Mayor’s expressed interest “in a number of the proposals we put forward, such as the pedestrianisation of Oxford Street. I especially welcome his interest in taking additional measures to tackle London’s appalling air quality which each year leads to the premature death of over 1,000 Londoners.”