This morning Boris gave evidence to the budget committee in a follow up from last weeks excellent session. Like Simon Milton he began by pointing out that for once, under the new government, London had received a better settlement than many other parts of the country. Against a background of cross the board reductions London had shouldered a 16% cut whereas the national average was 17%. The Mayor also expected further announcements in the coming days which would herald more money from government.
As usual, I pressed him to freeze the council tax precept not just this year, but in 2012/13 as well, leaving a 0% increase over his full term of office. Like Simon Milton, Boris refused to be drawn but he did point out that the freeze so far equated overall to a 6% cut, a welcome contrast to his predecessor who raised the precept by 153% during his term of office!
As demonstrated on the last thread, whilst irrelevant to the detailed budget process, The Banks are very important to The Left, who try to use them as cover for their own fiscal irresponsibility. Len Duval suggested the Boris was wrong to defend bankers who could have been taxed more to fund London's budget. Leaving aside the very real possibility that London wouldn't even have seen a lot of the money, Boris emphasised the importance of the financial sector to the capital. Until an alternative source of employment and revenue is created, he is keen to protect what we do have.
Boris is particularly proud that tough lobbying has secured all the money needed for Crossrail, the Tube upgrades, and to protect concessionary fares including the vital 24hr Freedom Pass. The fare increases are unpopular but he reminded us that fares had risen by more than inflation under the previous Mayor too. He stated that the fares package would eliminate the black hole left in TfL's budget by Livingstone's decision to delay his fares package until after the election. The abolition of the zone 2-6 travelcard had been controversial but only 6,000 journeys - of a total 3.5 million - were made using these cards and in most cases Oyster pay as you go would provide a cost effective alternative.
I asked if upgrades to the main line stations in Havering and Redbridge were included in the Crossrail budget. Making the stations safer and more accessible is essential, but Boris pointed out that Network Rail were funding this part of the project. It is to be hoped that they won't be penny pinching here.
And John Biggs revealed that, despite living close to the centre of town, he hadn't ridden a bike in years. What a missed opportunity - we could all have been riding 'Biggs Bikes'...
The Mayor was pleased that crime continued to fall, despite the recession, and particularly on public transport. He was committed to driving down crime even further and to increasing police visibility on the beat. The recruitment freeze has led to a fall in police numbers but even so, Boris was confident that there would still be between 32 and 33 thousand fully warranted officers in the force in 2012 - more than the number he inherited from Ken. Again, some further announcements - he referred to them as 'sleek rabbits out of hats' - would be made during the budget process, and he intended also to protect PCSO numbers.
Asked about police overtime, the Mayor stated that the unpredictability of demonstrations and other disorder made it difficult to commit to a lower figure. Darren Johnson reported that only 7% of overtime was incurred policing public order situations, so there should be other ways it can be controlled. Boris promised to investigate further. I told the Mayor that abstraction of police officers from outer London to cover these events should be done as sparingly as possible.
The budget - and associated sleek rabbits - will now go on to be debated by the Assembly in February. A two thirds majority is needed to amend the proposals so changes will need to command cross party support. The next budget committee meeting takes place on 3rd March.