Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Big Budget Debate


Today saw arguably the most important meeting in the London assembly diary. Every year the mayor has to present his budget for agreement by the 25 members, and on the first meeting he requires a straight majority to get it approved. The other groups get an opportunity to present amendments and detail their priorities for the coming year.

On this occasion there was much agreement, with everybody except the Greens welcoming a freeze in the budget. Only the Greens produced a fully costed alternative, which is quite an undertaking for a two member group, albeit that Darren Johnson found it easier than the protracted, behind the scenes negotiations with Livingstone's office, which marked the last four years for his group.

The debate was lengthy, with much said but relatively few differences:


Conservatives - More of the Same Please

Obviously we didn't have to draw up an alternative budget, for once. We applaud the Mayor's efforts to control costs and hold down the council tax in these difficult times. However we also hope that he will be able to go much further in future years, with plenty of scope for savings in City Hall, and no doubt buried away in the impenetrable monoliths of TfL and the Metropolitan Police.

Some tough questions were raised about the mayor's decision to retain a presence in some foreign countries and the usefulness of some initiatives, for example, the food strategy. This group are prepared to challenge the mayor when necessary. Virtually all the members contributed to the debate and they spoke well. I'm proud of the team!


Labour - The Dog Ate My Homework

No proposals at all from the eight strong Labour group. To be fair, they never had to produce an alternative budget under Livingstone - and they are still in shock. Eventually, they came up with a piece of paper which criticised Boris for failure to develop a coherent vision and went on to ask for more statistics to help them reach a conclusion. Their proposal then tailed off, having revealed nothing but a sense of irony.

Why are these people here? They might as well have produced a dog ate my homework excuse note...


Lib Dems - Show us Your Figures

The Libs did come up with a list of demands, including:

A youth worker to accompany every police safer neighbourhood team.
One hour bus tickets.
An inner London low emission zone.

To be paid for by measures including:

Reducing fare evasion.
Removing free travel for TfL staff.
Cutting the mayor's programme of public meetings.

Some attractive ideas, but unfortunately not costed properly. Caroline Pidgeon claims to have a version with numbers in - and I believe her - but she wants to show it to the mayor in private rather than opening it to assembly scrutiny. That's not very democratic, even if it does add up.


Greens - Livingstone's True Successors

Only the Green party produced a fully costed alternative budget, and good for them, regardless of content. At least they were taking the process seriously.

They showed how they could provide initiatives including:

Peace Week events for £20,000.
A bigger human rights and equalities programme for £148,000.
Parliament Square pedestrianisation for £6,000,000.
Removing one way systems for £6,000,000.
A 20mph speed limit trial for £3,000,000.
Reduced fare increase for £30,000,000.

With savings including:

Retaining bendy buses £3,000,000
Cancelling traffic light re phasing £11,100,000.
Increasing congestion charge to £10, raising £14,000,000.

And increasing the council tax precept by 1.2% to balance the budget.

Unacceptable in many ways and clearly carrying on the Livingstone legacy. Interestingly, Labour members voted against the very measures that they had been supporting under their own mayor.


BNP - No Comment

Richard Barnbrook treated us to a lengthy and aggressive rant, but failed to promote an amendment or a motion. He seems determined to oppose everything...


Result - Score Draw

All the amendments fell, with two exceptions:

The Conservative motion welcoming the precept freeze was passed, but only after the other parties amended it to criticise Boris for lacking a long term strategy and a clear vision.

A motion supported by the Greens, Labour and Lib Dems, listing initiatives they want to progress, but regrettably failing to provide costings.

The budget is not amended and will return to the assembly for final debate in two weeks. At this meeting only one third of the members will be required to support the budget proposal for it to be finally approved.

5 comments:

Rog T said...

Roger,

Did you agree with a certain assembly member and his comments regarding Boris's Ambassadors - primarily Rosie Boycott?

Full report :-

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/jan/28/boris-london

It says Boris was none too pleased with the criticism of his unpaid assistants.

Roger Evans said...

rog T, I think it is a good thing that the mayor invites experienced people to help him achieve his aims. Obviously I approve when they are assembly members but I also think it is refreshing when they come from other backgrounds - after all, journalists are just a step away from bloggers...

morris hickey said...

Whatever is in the budget, and whatever it costs, we're the suckers who have to pay for it.

So, far from "more of the same", let's have LESS of the same please!

Roger Evans said...

Which was precisely our point, but thank you Morris for putting it so succinctly.

St Crispin said...

What about reducing the salries of AMs to that of the national (or maybe the London) average. If you want to represent the people, live like them!