Thursday, March 26, 2009

Question Time

Yesterday marked the final mayor's questions of the financial year. This was Jennette's swan song in the chair. In May Darren Johnson takes over as the first Green politician to chair the assembly.

The session was scrappy, with master inquisitor John Biggs absent and a gap in the public gallery where Ken normally sits. Boris still draws a crowd of - mostly - well wishers, but the numbers are dwindling as time goes on.


Plenty of people would disagree with Murad Qureshi's view that pedicabs provide a welcome and colourful, albeit minor, addition to the streetscape of the West End and as legislation to licence these vehicles is currently going through Parliament I took the opportunity to ask the mayor to toughen up the regulations.

Safety is a legitimate concern as any incident will spill the - usually inebriated - passengers onto the road. I believe that pedicabs should undergo the same strict safety checks that are required for black cabs and that the standards expected should be demanding. If they are licenced that effectively implies that the public sector is taking on responsibility for their safety.

I got a laugh when I speculated that Boris probably visits the West End more often than I do - I have Romford on my doorstep after all - so he would be familiar with pedicabs that ignore traffic regulations and park illegally. Licencing provides an opportunity to crack down on traffic infringements and there will be no excuse for misbehaviour in future.

Boris was sympathetic whilst not wanting to regulate the trade out of existence. He was also rightly keen to avoid the thin end of the wedge which might lead to him not being able to carry passengers on his own bike. Of course in the case of the mayor's passengers, I assume they don't have to pay...

Great Spaces

Labour accused the mayor of plagiarising Ken's 100 Public Spaces programme with his own Great Spaces initiative. What was the difference between the two, they wanted to know. Of course one major difference is that the old scheme over promised and under delivered - like so much in those years - with only five projects delivered in six years. At that rate it would have taken Ken over a century to produce the 100 spaces he promised. It won't be hard for Boris to beat that record.

A question criticising the recent Help a London Park vote, which saw thousands of Londoners phoning in to participate, was quietly dropped by Labour. They are coming to terms with one central tenet of British politics - the voter is always right. And even when they are wrong, there is no point criticising them.

Organising For Delivery

With a raft of job cuts announced at City Hall on Tuesday, the mayor faced a potentially awkward gauntlet of detailed questions which failed to materialise.

The Greens questioned the wisdom of reducing the environment team from 39 to 20, particularly with the number of strategies the government requires us to produce. My colleague Richard Tracey on the other hand, praised the mayor for delivering on his manifesto commitment to cut bureaucracy and pressed Boris for more savings in future. With some 700 posts still in place at City Hall there must be scope to do more next year...

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