Roger Evans, Leader of the City Hall Conservative group, welcomes Boris Johnson’s 2011/12 budget but calls on Assembly groups and the Mayor to make further savings.
For the third year in a row, Boris Johnson has frozen the precept levied on Greater London council taxpayers by the GLA.
Over three years this equates to a 6% cut in the council tax bill, and this financial prudence will be welcomed particularly by pensioners and Londoners on low incomes, who are disproportionately affected by tax increases.
I hope that the Mayor will be able to freeze the precept again next year, a great achievement for his term of office which would provide a marked contrast to his predecessor who hiked the precept by a shocking 152%. At the height of his reign, Livingstone’s City Hall employed over 700 staff, a number which has been managed down under the Organising for Delivery programme.
And this achievement is all the more remarkable given the challenging financial situation that Labour left the country in after the election. Local councils have felt the pinch this year, struggling to maintain vital services, so I very much welcome the commitment that Boris made to freeze TfL’s Local Improvement Plan funding, which makes a vital contribution to transport and environmental improvements at a local level. Plans to cut this funding by over £20 million in the next two years have been reversed, with the Mayor recognising that local councils make an essential contribution to delivering his transport objectives.
Another welcome announcement was the recruitment drive, to be launched by the Metropolitan Police. Retirements have seen police numbers fall recently but they are projected to rise by at least 750 in the coming year and there will be more warranted officers on the streets in 2012 than there were when Livingstone left office. Single patrolling in some areas will also mean that these officers are more effectively deployed.
Nevertheless, we believe that more savings can be achieved so we tabled our own amendment to the budget. Like last year, we argue that the political groups on the Assembly should make reductions in their own staffing levels to reflect the savings made elsewhere. Last year the proposal fell on stony ground so we went ahead and made considerable savings ourselves – and I hope that the example we have set will encourage the other parties to follow suit.
We also proposed the saving of £6 million that the London Development Agency planned to spend on developing a single 101 telephone number to access public services in London. This project has been bogged down recently and technological advances are changing the way people interact with government, making the project obsolete. On this proposal we did manage to secure the support of the other political groups, and it was the only suggestion to win unanimous approval during the budget debate.