Boris Johnson’s third London budget fails to grasp the opportunities offered by the coalition’s localism agenda and continues to rely on financial reserves to defer difficult, but necessary, decisions writes Mike Tuffrey AM, Liberal Democrat London Assembly Budget Spokesperson.
Three years into his mayoralty, this is Boris Johnson’s first budget since the change of government. Regrettably it fails to rise to the challenge of the new national reality.
In so doing, it exposes the direction that Boris Johnson intends to travel up to election day: using reserves to put off difficult decisions – as I’ve previously argued – and failing to make the fundamental reforms needed.
Everyone knows we are very firmly in an age of austerity, thanks to the huge budget deficit and tripling of national debt under the 13 years of Gordon Brown and Ed Balls. But central government is not just imposing a tough spending squeeze; it’s also giving new ‘localism’ opportunities to London, freedoms we can use to benefit Londoners.
In contrast to the Mayor, the Liberal Democrat alternative protects frontline services now and plans ahead for the future.
Our budget provides an alternative to his proposals to undermine neighbourhood policing teams which cut 100 sergeants before the review of how they operate has even reported.
On transport we reduce the burden facing Londoners from the Mayor’s steep fare rises. We want to introduce a One Hour Bus Ticket and reverse the huge hike in fares that he has forced on outer Londoners by ending Zone 2 – 6 travelcards.
We plan to invest in community fire safety measures across the capital to ensure that there are fewer fires and reduced demand on the fire service.
And with oil prices and energy bills at such a high level – and almost certainly set to stay high it is vital to help low income Londoners climb out of fuel poverty, by improving the energy efficiency of London’s housing stock.
But it is not just on frontline services that the mayor’s budget fails. The second failure is not exploiting the new opportunities that have opened up from the localism agenda.
With the impending abolition of the London Development Agency, including the transfer of a large number of valuable assets to the direct control of GLA, the Mayor can now create an integrated housing and regeneration function to deliver real change in the quality of life and economic opportunities of disadvantaged Londoners.
Yet this Mayor still seems to have no such plans in place, nor articulated a vision as to what he wants to see happen. Our budget would guarantee the seed-corn funding and start-up costs of the new London Housing Company.
In this age of austerity we must help Londoners, especially those on low incomes, weather the tough economic world we now face. Most importantly we must plan ahead to maintain the key frontline services that we all value.
I hope that when Boris Johnson presents his final budget before the Assembly on February 23rd he will have adopted the suggestions the Liberal Democrat group put forward to invest more resources in essential frontline services in policing, transport, housing and the environment, cut wasteful expenditure, and ensure no rise in the GLA’s share of the Council Tax.
And I hope his last year in office will be characterised by investment and reform for the future, not short-term reserve-funded expedients.