Boris Johnson appeared before the London Assembly this morning to defend his budget for the coming financial year and answer questions from Assembly Members ahead of a vote on whether to agree draft spending plans for City Hall, Transport for London, the London Fire Brigade and Met Police.
During two hours of questioning Mayor Johnson revealed he was lifting a recruitment freeze in the Met, promising to deliver hundreds of new officers as a result of an additional £42m in police funding.
Announcing the extra money Mayor Johnson said: “My main objective remains to protect front line services and this funding will be an enormous boost to keeping our streets safe and having more uniformed police officers on patrol.”
The Mayor was criticised by opposition party AMs who accused him of misleading Londoners by promising a lower number of officers than current targets call for, a claim denied by the Mayor who said critics were measuring his promise of ” approximately 32,510″ officers against the number of officers budgeted for, not the numbers currently serving.
In a statement issued after the Mayor’s appearance before the Assembly, a spokesman for Labour’s 2012 Mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone insisted: “The reality is after four years under Boris Johnson there will be less police in London than there were under the budgets delivered by Ken.”
Johnson was also criticised for a decision to remove 100 sergeants from safer neighbourhood teams across the capita, resulting in some teams sharing a sergeant.
Liberal Democrat AM Caroline Pidgeon said her group “oppose the immediate cut in number of neighbourhood sergeants” and called on the Mayor to put “extra police on the streets where Londoners are at the greatest risk from gun and knife crime.”
City Hall has said applications by PCSOs and Special Constables to become full-time police offers will be “prioritised” when the recruitment freeze is lifted next Monday.
The Mayor appeared to rule out fare decreases next year, branding pre-election cuts by former Mayor Ken Livingstone as “irresponsible”.
Johnson also announced he was reversing a previous decision to cut the amount of money given to boroughs for local transport projects.
News of the Mayor’s rethink was welcomed by Green Party AM Jenny Jones who has previously raised concerns the cuts would damage efforts to encourage cycling. Ms Jones commented: “The reality is that we need substantial new investment if we are to get a million more Londoners on their bikes every day.”
Although the Mayor’s budget includes the third successive freeze in the GLA’s Council Tax precept and cuts in a number of budgets, Conservative AMs called on Johnson “to make further cuts” by scrapping new initiatives including the proposed 101 non-emergency telephone number.
The Conservative group’s budget spokesman, Gareth Bacon, said his colleagues “think the Mayor should eliminate spending on the 101 telephone service. It will cost £6m to introduce, but by the time that happens it will be obsolete.
“Virtually no one calls a single number to be put through to other services – other than 999; they just go on the Internet. It’s an idea whose time has passed. It’s an easy saving to make – let’s go for it.”
Liberal Democrat AM Mike Tuffrey expressed concerns at the levels of reserves being built up at the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority and repeated previous suggestions that the Mayor was building up a pre-election war chest.
Assembly Members agreed the draft budget although they expressed concerns on funding for policing, sustained investment and environmental problems and agreed a motion calling on the Mayor to “recast” his spending priorities to provide more funding in these areas.
John Biggs AM, who proposed the motion, said: “In the face of what we all recognise are strong pressures on public spending, it is more important than ever to put what cash is available into the services people value and need the most.
“The Mayor’s budget has missed an opportunity to make a real commitment to protecting frontline safer neighbourhood policing teams and to play fare by the travelling public by balancing the impact of the rising cost of tube and bus tickets.”
The Mayor must now bring a final budget to the Assembly for ratification on February 23rd.