Sunday, February 13, 2011

Budget Day (Number One)

Thursday saw the first of two budget debates, with the Mayor presenting his proposals for 2011/12. The Assembly has the power to amend the budget if two thirds of the members can support the change - but that has never happened...

The Budget

Boris led off with his budget speech. Once again he had frozen the council tax precept, a continuing policy which now amounted to a 10% cut in bills over three years, and contrasted with Livingstone's 152% inflation busting increases. Council tax impacts particularly on pensioners and others on fixed incomes, and Boris felt that they would welcome his value for money approach, particularly as so many are struggling in the financial mess that Labour bequeathed them.

Discussing policing, Boris was proud to announce the end of the recruitment freeze. Money vired from the Fire Authority budget would help to boost police numbers and the Mayor promised that there would be more police on the streets by next year than there were when he came to office - a proud legacy. Moving to single patrolling in quieter areas had also freed up another 330 officers, and the concerted effort to move them out of desk jobs and onto the streets would continue.

For transport, Boris pleased London's boroughs by announcing that funding from TfL would be held at 2011/12 levels for two more years - this had originally been slated for a cut, but they had found £22 million for environmental and transport improvements at local level. The Mayor emphasised that support from the boroughs was vital to the delivery of his policies - a welcome contrast with Ken who always seemed to be at war with council leaders.

LDA funding was still sketchy as negotiations with central government continued, but Boris hoped to be able to bring us more good news soon.

A short statement from budget committee chairman John Biggs followed, then there were two hours of questions. As these concluded, each group was invited to move its amendments.

Conservative Group

We sought to produce yet more savings and cut the precept.

Firstly, by seeking a 15% cut in the support budget for all political groups. At a time when front line services are under threat, protecting the political support budget cannot be justified. Last year we made the same proposal but the other groups vetoed it, no doubt unsure if it could be achieved. Over 2010/11 we have made considerable savings by sharing some personal assistants and researchers, and removing some of the management. Having proved that it can be done, we would like to see the other groups follow suit.

We also sought to delete a £6 million spend on the 101 telephone number project. Always a questionable investment, improvements in technology and changes in behaviour now make a universal phone number for public services obsolete.

Other than these suggestions, we welcomed the Mayor's budget, especially the council tax freeze and the greater support for boroughs.


Whilst agreeing with the precept freeze, Labour had different priorities.

They would use TfL reserves to hold down bus fares, fund step free station access projects, and guarantee more Tube station staff, in a nod to Ken's rail union supporters. They also proposed ceasing the project to smooth traffic flow by removing unnecessary traffic signals.

At the Met they would provide 200 more police officers and invest more in tackling youth crime, to be paid for by savings in the overtime budget and the police media department.

Interestingly they supported the Fire Authority budget, despite having voted against it at the Authority's earlier budget meeting. A case of Ed Milliband's 'blank page' perhaps?

Liberal Democrats

There were no signs of 'coalitionism' at City Hall, as the Lib Dems promoted their own ideas:

Once again they proposed their One Hour Bus Ticket, a big idea which featured in last year's offering. Another big idea was an Inner London Low Emission Zone. £10 million would be saved by delaying the roll out of cycle superhighway routes 2,5,8 and 12. Route 2 runs from Aldgate to Bow and I am already getting demands from Redbridge to extend it to Ilford. They would save another £15 million by ending free travel for partners of TfL employees.

In policing, they also targeted the directorate of public affairs for a large cut and sought to save £500,000 by cutting our payments to the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO). Extra police would be used to bolster neighbourhood teams and to deal with child trafficking at Heathrow and St. Pancras.


As usual, Darren and Jenny came up with the most radical proposals:

Cutting police overtime, cutting back on surveillance and reducing the Territorial Support Group (the controversial unit which polices demonstrations) would provide savings to be spent on supporting safer neighbourhood teams. £3 million would be spent on traffic policing, and £1 million would be invested in training to improve public order policing.

A 'retro' transport budget would save money by retaining bendy buses and reintroducing the congestion charge Western Extension Zone. Scrapping work on river crossings in the Thames Gateway would save a further £1 million. Congestion charge would be whacked up to £16, with a special charge of £30 for highly polluting vehicles. The money raised would be used to introduce a new 'Very Low Emission Zone' and to increase funding for cycle lanes, pedestrian crossings, and 20mph zones.

At the LDA they proposed cutting the academy programme and scrapping the 101 number project, to pay for more home energy efficiency.

Common Ground

Needless to say none of the above alternatives commanded a two thirds majority.

The three opposition groups got together to pass a critical motion which ensures the budget process will continue with a final vote on 23 February.

And finally, seeing the Green's proposal on the 101 number, we set up another motion calling on Boris to scrap the plans. This was supported unanimously by all four groups and was actually the only constructive proposal that we could all agree on!

Now Boris will go away and consider our comments. He will also continue negotiations with central government over the LDA budget, returning with finalised proposals in two weeks.


Mrs Angry said...

I think you need some new photos, Rog. How about something romantic for the ladies for Valentine's Day? Just a thought.

To offer a precis of your budget thoughts:
Ken Livingstone: bad
Boris Johnson: good
Tories: fabulous
Labour: oh dear
The rest: silly

I am interested, however to see that question time took two hours.

And here is my question: here in Barnet there are serious proposals to amend the consitution so as to prevent anyone but the council leader and the leader of the majority opposition party speaking in meetings. Yes, that means that despite being Tory coalition partners, no Libdem member may speak. And not even any other Tory councillor. This and other barely credible plans have caused outrage in this borough, and indeed have been mentioned with amazement in the national press. I would like to think that you would agree these proposals have no place in a modern democracy and are completely against the spirit of your party's avowed policy of localism. Your comment?

lucas said...

I can't help wondering why Mrs A addresses her problems with Barnet to Roger Evans, who represents Havering and Redbridge.

I also can't help wondering why she imagines a Conservative politician would not be in favour of his own Party, in just the way that a Labour one would be in favour of Labour?

Or am I missing something?

Roger Evans said...

Mrs A, if you want romance at sixteen minutes past midnight, you have come to the wrong place - unless the 'Finchley Frog' is still hopping around...

And if you require more 'Guardianesque' reading matter I recommend Dave Hill's blog, to which I provide a link. Or there is always the good old Beeb.

As for Barnet, I'm sure they are doing their best for residents, just as we do in Havering and Redbridge.

The Finchley frog said...

Still hopping around? You bet! And I'm told even you've been seen in public occasionally.

As to the strange situation that Mrs Angry fears may come to Barnet, she should look at it again. If it silences just one particular individual then might that not be a blessing?

Mrs Angry said...

oh dear, not very gallant, Mr Evans ... and what's wrong with feeling romantic at 16 minutes past midnight? We are not all, like your goodself it seems, tucked up in our beds with a mug of Horlicks.

As for reading matter, I have very catholic tastes, and there is no point in preaching to the converted, anyway, is there? I have an evangelical outlook.It's also a good and healthy idea, you know, to read newspapers, blogs etc that are of the opposite political view to one's one ...

Finchley Frog: unfortunately a certain person is the one who has thought up the attempt to silence all dissent ...

Lucas,in case you hadn't noticed, Roger is the leader of the Tory group on the GLA and in theory has some influence on matters which affect all Londoners, including those of us unfortunate to live in this consituency ...

The Finchley frog said...

Sorry, Mrs Angry - I should have recognised the symptoms. Looking at it optimistically, there will come the day when his maker will silence him even if the electorate should fail to do so beforehand.

As to what may happen at 16 minutes after midnight, perhaps Mr Evans has failed to recognise the opportunity that you are offering in such subtle manner....

Mrs Angry said...

Finchley Frog, I've just been to a Cabinet meeting where the person in question and his colleagues were in fact silenced by their electors, if only for a couple of hours: such scenes ... it couldn't happen in Havering, of course, which is a paradise on earth,obviously, although short of entertainment after midnight ... (I don't think he is interested, btw: this internet dating lark isn't all it's cracked up to be, is it?)

Rog T said...

I must confess that I feel a bit sorry for Roger. This blog is the best and most readable account of the meetings of the GLA and City Hall and for his troubles he gets it in the neck for the behaviour of his colleagues. Having said that he is the leader of the Conservative group and with responsibilty comes grief and hassle.

I suspect that the upside for Roger is that even his sternist critics such as myself and Mrs Angry recognise that he does a good job for his money and respect his efforts. I don't agree with Rogers politics, but I would recommend him to politicians of all hues as an example of someone who keeps people informed, is well mannered, accepts criticism and addresses it when justified and has a sense of humour.

I suspect that is why even though he has a barbed reference to the Guardian, he is happy to be listed as one of Dave Hills favourite bloggers.

Mrs Angry said...

Oh dear:I think there is far too much rogering in this blog.

To be serious for one moment, however: difficult for me, you understand:
I note from Roger's GLA page that his key issues & concerns include

"Protecting and promoting the interests of outer London"

- so I am afraid that in this light, and as party leader, he is responsible for the behaviour of his colleagues,including sssh - he who must not be named (Lord Voldemort). Any decent Tory,( and like Rog, I am sure you qualify under this category, and should be commended for your tolerance and long suffering sense of humour)really should be very worried at what is happening in Barnet. You state you are sure 'they' ie the Barnet Tory council, 'are doing their best for residents'. Roger: please come and visit, and ask a few of your now largely disaffected Tory voters whether they would agree with you. A visiting TUC offical recently said that Barnet is a window on Cameron's Britain: I think that is true, and peering through this window should serve as a warning.