Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Budget Scrutiny

Today the budget committee took evidence from all the functional bodies and deputy mayor, Sir Simon Milton, in preparation for the impending budget settlement. This year the budget is set against the backdrop of essential cuts introduced by the government to recover the parlous financial situation left by the outgoing Labour government. For once, London fared better than many other parts of the country, having suffered the worst settlement for three successive years under the previous administration.

Overall Picture

Sir Simon confirmed that the council tax precept would be frozen once again, and spoke of his aspiration to achieve a freeze again in 2012/13.

For this year LFEPA had achieved particularly good savings enabling the transfer of £20 million from their budget to provide extra cash for the MPA where government grant had been less generous.

£23 million from government - council tax freeze specific grant - will be used to preserve some of the LDA's functions following abolition. Of this, £14 million will be supporting a new body - Promote London - which brings together the work of three existing bodies - Visit London, Think London and Study London. Together with economies of scale, Promote London will also seek private sponsorship to fund much of its work.

The London Skills and Employment Board is losing its powers to government and is unlikely to continue in such a vacuum.

Metropolitan Police Authority

The MPA is seeking to make further savings in what Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse described as 'inanimate objects', whilst preserving its front line capacity.

By March 2011 they expect that 1,181 officers will have left the police service but these losses will be offset by deploying 550 officers currently in administrative roles - Operation Herald - and increased single patrolling. In London 800 officers are now on single patrol every day and there must be scope to continue to roll out this practice in all but the most challenging urban environments. Safer Neighbourhood Teams would be preserved although the supervision structure was being reviewed.

The disposal of properties would continue, particularly of old police stations which were no longer suitable for purpose. More services would be delivered from town centre and shopping parade locations, providing a more welcoming environment for victims and witnesses, whilst basing officers in the most populated areas.

Kit declared that he was more concerned by the cuts being implemented by local authorities. He stressed the importance of effective child protection and community safety services without which the police will struggle.

Deputy Commissioner Tim Godwin reassured the committee that the Metropolitan Police would be able to handle demonstrations and consequent public disorder, if necessary by abstracting officers from boroughs to police these events.

London Fire And Emergency Planning Authority

The committee congratulated Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson on his recognition in the New Year Honours List - he has been made a CBE. He assured us that whilst 121 administrative posts would be cut, there would be no cut in front line services.

The London Fire Brigade had received a good grant settlement, doing better than many rural brigades - Warwickshire was facing the closure of eight fire stations. Chairman Brian Coleman put this down to assiduous lobbying of government by himself and senior officers, and also to the previous experience of Fire Minister Bob Neill as chairman of the old LFCDA. It is good to have a minister who actually understands the needs of the capital.

Transport For London

Commissioner Peter Hendy was the only witness to turn up without other officers to support him. Peter is usually well briefed and doesn't need people whispering answers to him.

TfL's four year grant settlement fell short of previous expectations, leaving a funding gap of £2.17 billion, but Peter was confident that this could be bridged. Firstly there would be further efficiency savings, including 'Project Horizon', a wholesale restructuring of the organisation to strip out inefficiencies and over management - this was expected to achieve savings of up to 20% of the admin budget.

Peter also expected to over achieve on income from fares, following the latest increases. Numbers using the Tube particularly have boomed as the London economy recovers, to the point that once again there is no effective peak hour on London Underground. Peter was not being drawn on the level of this surplus, only saying that he expected it to reach several hundreds of millions.

TfL staff were awarded a 4.2% pay increase in 2010/11 as part of a package designed to cover two to three years. Peter was keen to honour the deal - notwithstanding the disagreement with ASLEF which caused the strike on Boxing Day - but after this period he could not rule out a pay freeze, already experienced by many elsewhere in the public sector.

Round Up

All in all this was an informative meeting which covered a good deal of ground. The committee reconvenes on Tuesday when we will be questioning the Mayor about his political priorities.


Mrs Angry said...

Surely, Mr Evans, there is an innate contradiction in your first paragraph? I know it is the Tory way to try and bury this inconvenient truth, but much of the economic crisis we are now facing was in fact brought about by catastrophic and notably unpunished speculative financial activity, here in the UK, and internationally. You dutifully refer to 'the parlous finacnial situation left by the outgoing Labour government', and then state that this year London's budget settlement will be better, in contrast to the three successive years under Labour. Can't have it both ways, Rog: either the Labour government was chucking money away, or it was acting prudently by setting the last three years settlement at the rate given. Which is it? Of course I am sure that the improved rate graciously slipped London's way by the new Coalition government has nothing whatsoever to do with preparing the way for the next London assembly elections, and concerns over the anti-Coalition feelings of an ungrateful electorate ...

Roger Evans said...

Mrs A, your logic would be absolutely right, if in fact I had said what you are implying. The statement "For once, London fared better than many other parts of the country" does not mean we have gained on last year - because no part of the country has.

However we are no longer getting the worst settlement in the country because we no longer have Labour "chucking money away" as you succinctly put it, on places Up North.

And I will continue to remind everyone that it was Labour who created this mess with years of overspending and borrowing, not least because Ed Milliband seems to have forgotten his own party's record. You would think with all the photocopying he did for Gordon, he might actually have read some of the papers...

Finally, Mrs A, can I wish you a Happy New Year without of course in any way endorsing or supporting your opinions and comments.

Mrs Angry said...

...and a happy New Year to you too, of course, but don't think I am going to let you off the hook - you have neatly avoided the subject of the irresponsible speculative bankers who caused the collapse of the economy, and who seem about to be rewarded yet again with undeserved bonuses, whilst we pay for the bailing out of the banks whose downfall they caused ...

Redbridge resident said...

Corporate greed, Mrs Angry, is not confined to the banking sector. It was (?is) at the root of the parliamentary expenses scandal, and is not exactly absent from local government either.

Mrs Angry said...

Indeed, Redbridge resident, I agree with you point entirely. Here in in Barnet, we have seen a particularly repugnant example of greed amongst our Tory councillors who recently tried to award themselves a sneaky round of enormous pay rises, shortly before bringing in savage cuts to services and handing out redundancy notices to staff.

Redbridge resident said...

Perhaps you too, Mrs Angry, have noted that one of those Barnet councillors has tried to avoid public accountability in his role of Chairman of the Fire & Emergency Planning Authority - a battle that he has (fortunately) lost.

If he does not wish to be accountable to the public, then he has a clear option - resign and make room for somebody who will.