Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Mayor at the Budget Committee

The budget committee heard evidence from the mayor this morning, as he prepares his first financial settlement.

The headline news is that for the first time in history, the GLA precept - the charge to council tax payers - is to be frozen. For future years of the Boris mayoralty the aspiration is to maintain this freeze and possibly to achieve a reduction, if this can be done. This has been achieved so far by avoiding waste and unnecessary expense.

The recession and falling inflation could produce more cost savings, however we were warned that the rate of growth in the number of passengers was slowing - amazingly it is still rising - so the revenue generated from public transport might not be as great as expected. This trend will be partly offset by cracking down on fare dodging, with the removal of bendy buses and increased enforcement sending a clear message to passengers who refuse to buy a ticket.

Ending the spending on projects for which no capital government funding was available, for example the £1.3 billion Cross River Tram, saved money and made for a more honest dialogue with Londoners. The mayor will buy the schemes he can afford and not hold out false promises on the rest of the programme. Money intended for the doomed Thames Gateway Bridge was being reserved to fund a new crossing at Silvertown instead.

TfL was exercising more stringent budget control through its diligent finance committee and Steven Norris - an experienced transport professional and former minister - was conducting a review of bus contracts which many suspect have not been giving Londoners good value for money.

The mayor praised London Travelwatch for their efforts over the last year, but I voiced my concern that their recent statements have been backward looking, for example their obsession with preserving bendy buses for future generations. It is time for the performance, business plan and objectives of Travelwatch to be reviewed, to ensure that they remain an authentic voice for passengers rather than providers.

Best quote of the meeting came from Labour member, Val Shawcross, stating "There is nothing socialist about wasting public money!", as she set out single handedly to rewrite history...

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