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London Assembly (Mayor’s Question Time)
12 December 2007
Transcript – Question and Answer Session
2800 / 2007 – Mayor’s Report
Would the Mayor kindly update his report?
Ken Livingstone (Mayor): I would like to report to the Assembly the summary of my budget proposals for next year, as this is the earliest possible opportunity.
The Government has shown its confidence in the ability of London government by giving us new responsibilities in the areas of planning, housing, skills and the environment.
In giving the go-ahead to Crossrail, the Government has provided the key to the further economic development of London.
In 2007 we completed the delivery of the Safer Neighbourhood Scheme, so that all London neighbourhoods now have a dedicated team of beat police officers. We have increased policing on the transport network with the additional Transport Police and Community Safety Officers deployed to improve safety on transport in 21 outer London boroughs. By investing in our policing service every year since 2001 and the shift to beat policing, we have revolutionised the way the city is policed, helping to reduce Londoners’ fear of crime. Crime is at an eight-year low, having fallen for four years in a row by 15% in total, and is on course to fall for a fifth year.
My budget maintains this investment and, with extra government funding for counter terrorism and other security duties, police numbers will increase again in 2008. In addition there will be new posts to create new proactive teams to tackle guns, gangs, organised crime and Trident operations and a full rollout of the No Witness, No Justice witness protection programme, which supports both the arrest and the conviction of offenders.
Sustained investment in London’s fire services has contributed greatly to the considerable progress in making London a safer city. My previous budgets have invested in front-line staff, additional vehicles and equipment and increased focus on stopping fires happening in the first place. The strong performance secured from this investment and emphasis on fire safety is reflected in a dramatic fall in recent years in fire deaths, fire injuries, deliberate fires and the number of hoax calls. This budget continues to invest in the London Fire Brigade, to improve its resilience to tackle a wide range of emergencies including the threat from terrorism - as seen this summer - the impact of global warming, with its extreme weather events, and flooding.
Londoners are seeing the impact of Transport for London’s £10 billion transport investment programme. Service improvements include doubling the night bus network, modernising the Tube, new ticket halls at King’s Cross, St Pancras and the new station at Wembley Park to service the newly opened national stadium. We have created the London Overground, which now operates a better service on the North London railway and from 2010 it will link to an extended East London Line, forming the beginning of an orbital rail network around London.
Although fares income sustains investment, it is important that fares are affordable. I have extended my programme of free travel to include under-11s on the Tube and Docklands Light Railway (DLR) all day, every day, and on the bus and tram networks to all under-18s in full time education. I have cut pay-as-you-go Oyster bus fares from £1 to 90p all day, not just in the off-peak period, and reduced the weekly bus pass from £14 to £13 from September this year. This helps around 1.6 million Londoners. Bus passengers on Income Support also now benefit from further fare concessions introduced in August. Thanks to a combination of record passenger numbers and careful control of operating costs boosting net transport revenues, in the new fares package for 2008 there is no increase in single fares, whether using Oyster or cash, on London’s bus, Tube, tram and Docklands Light Railway network. Once Retail Price Index inflation of around 4% is taken into account, single bus fares on Oyster will be around 14% lower and single Tube fares around 4% lower than in January this year.
In the light of the outcome of Transport for London (TfL’s) formal bid to take control of Metronet and the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review settlement over the next budget cycle, TfL will develop a new business plan for the period up to 2017. This budget presents the last two years of TfL’s current 5-year business plan. Going forward, TfL will continue to ensure that all Londoners, whatever their age, wherever they live and whatever their needs, have the ability to travel safely and reliably to the work, leisure, education and social opportunities that this city offers.
Sustainability in tackling climate change continued to feature prominently in the business plans throughout the GLA Group, including investment and actions to reduce carbon emissions and to develop and encourage an energy efficient infrastructure for London. The plans include delivering on the wealth of innovative and effective programmes in the Climate Change Action Plan, and on the deal developed by the Clinton Climate Initiative to cut carbon emissions from up to 100 GLA Group buildings by making them more energy efficient.
The need for sustained investment means keeping up the pressure for greater efficiencies in every area of the GLA Group work. As in previous years, substantial savings and efficiencies have been built into the budget. This year’s plans include £272 million of further reductions which will not impact on frontline services. As a result my plans for continuing to invest in police, fire and transport services and in the environment require an increase in the GLA Group’s budget requirement of just 2.7% for next year. As always, a significant factor for my budget proposals and their impact on the Council Tax precept is the level of government grant. On the basis of the Government’s recent announcement, the increase in the GLA Council Tax precept for next year will be no more than 14 pence per week on a band D household. This represents an increase of 2.4% and is well below the rate of increase in retail prices.
Furthermore, I am able to confirm that there will be no increase in the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games precept, keeping my commitment that was agreed with the Government to ensure that now and in the future Londoners will only pay 38 pence per week towards the Games.
John Biggs (AM): Three easy questions, I guess. This is, I think, an announcement which I hope will be welcomed by all Londoners, with one or two exceptions around this table perhaps.
Richard Barnes AM: Nine.
John Biggs (AM): Nine? Are you all here today? There are only eight of you, I think. You are counting the One London Party?
OK. Would you share with me concern that although we have had a number of years of growth in funding for London, which has been welcome, this year’s settlement for London, particularly for the boroughs, is a challenging one and will you join with Labour councils and others in lobbying the Government to ensure that we have the resources to meet our needs, bearing in mind that London has very peculiar attributes compared to other parts of the country in terms of turnover, population growth, churn, demand for services, different profiles in the population and so on?
Ken Livingstone (Mayor): I think it is right that one of the factors that led me to go for the lowest possible increase in the precept, whilst continuing to increase the number of police officers, was the fact that I know many borough councils are facing a difficult year. In my discussions with the leader of London Councils, Councillor Merrick Cockell, I have given full support to all the lobbying they intend to do to try to draw attention to London’s specific needs and there is nothing that separates us from the London boroughs in making our case that London should receive a larger share of national resources. What I am picking up from borough councillors of all parties is that broadly most boroughs are heading towards an increase of a similar size to the one I have just announced, so that Londoners will generally be able to look forward to, for the coming year, an increase across London boroughs of all political persuasions of under the rate of inflation.
John Biggs (AM): My second question is about sustainability, bearing in mind that the Deputy Mayor is in Bali at present, representing one of the world’s leading cities at the conference on climate change. Last year’s budget had a massive emphasis on sustainability and climate change and you stuck it in almost at the end of your presentation this morning on the budget. Do you want to make a comment about quite how important, embedded and intrinsic sustainability, climate change, global warming and the role of cities like London are in tackling that?
Ken Livingstone (Mayor): It is last because, in terms of total expenditure, it still remains small compared with what we are doing for transport or policing. What is significant, particularly with the input of the Green Party into the budget, is how, working our way through transport, literally hundreds of millions of pounds is being spent slightly differently than it would otherwise have been without that input to direct us towards the most effective way of reducing carbon emissions. Similar approaches are starting to work their way through the police and other budgets.
Certainly when we get control of housing investment – the £4 billion that Government has set aside for London over the next three years, which we get control of from April – we will want to make sure that we do not spend that on any construction that adds to the problem of climate change. The thing that struck me most of all at the meetings I had in my recent visit to India was the meeting with Dr Bhattacharya, who had literally come from chairing the International Commission on Climate Change. Dr Bhattacharya is the joint winner of the Nobel Peace Prize this year, along with Al Gore, and he got it for the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He had just literally spent the best part of ten days managing to persuade representatives of 190 governments in moving towards accepting the need for an 80% reduction in emissions from the advanced countries in order to avoid that 2ºC increase in global warming that could tip us into an irreversible climate change shift. He is much gloomier than the consensus he was able to get through; he believes we are most probably already past the tipping point and are headed towards catastrophic climate change.
Therefore, I think over the years to come, not only have we got to make certain everything we do reduces carbon emissions rather than adds to them, but we have also got to start to think in terms of perhaps a major economic shift in the developed world, in much the same way the world economies shifted in World War II to defeat Nazism, with a massive shift in resources to armaments, we will have to see a massive shift in resources to carbon capture and storage technologies; we only have one that currently works; it is very expensive, and scientists are working on several others. We may have to face a real shift in the way the entire western economies work in order to start extracting carbon from the atmosphere to claw us back from that irreversible climate change point. I think this is absolutely going to be more and more central to the budget, not just at City Hall, but for virtually every government in the world.
John Biggs (AM): Finally, this will be seen, and indeed it is, as a pre-election budget in that it is the budget just before the next GLA election.
Ken Livingstone (Mayor): Is there an election? No one told me!
John Biggs (AM): Although I started by saying that I cannot really imagine how anyone could oppose these wonderfully beneficial proposals in the budget, this is the time of Christmas and of course the Grinch comes out at Christmas in the Assembly in the form of Richard Barnes AM, I believe! Where do you think the battle lines will be on the budget this year? What are the points of pressure between yourselves and others aspiring for your office?
Ken Livingstone (Mayor): I think, if you examine the whole eight years, we had three substantial, very real increases in the first three years as we created from nothing a new city government, as we started the process of rebuilding transport, rebuilding the police. Do not forget the great debates we had in those first three years about the need to establish balances. The transport and police authorities that were created had no balances at all. We have now been in a position where we can go through sustained terrorist attack without the Government having to step in and bale us out with an emergency package. We have been able to sustain the catastrophic collapse of Metronet without impacting on our budget because we built those reserves.
In the last four years, what we have seen, with the exception of the one-off charge for the Olympics, is a consecutive series of single figure increases. I said, I think, two or three years ago that we would be tending to see figures just below or just above the rate of inflation, because having established these levels of policing, this level of transport service, whilst there will continue to be improvements, they are not going to be on the scale that we needed to make in the first part of this decade and, therefore, both for the fare increases and Council Tax increases, I do not see anything being much out of line with inflation for the foreseeable future.
On the battle lines, what I have noticed each year is that whatever I have proposed, some elements in the Assembly demand it be reduced. However low it gets, they still demand more. Then we move onto the next year and basically there is an acceptance of what we did the year before and there is an argument about that year. If people really believed all they said in the previous seven years, they should actually be arguing for catastrophic reductions. What happens is, each year, having predicted gloom, doom and disaster, we then start the debate with those people predicting gloom, doom and disaster again, but accepting what was agreed in the previous year. Either what we were doing was fundamentally wrong and you should still be demanding the reductions you demanded in the last seven years or you have to say there is a bit of posturing going on.
Brian Coleman (Deputy Chairman): Mr Mayor, were you pleased or disappointed with the level of grant settlement this year?
Ken Livingstone (Mayor): Well, as far as the GLA goes we have been relatively pleased. We have an increase in the budget spending of 2.7%, but because of the way the grant is worked out for us, we only need an increase of 2.4% and within the police grant settlement there was a £4 million saving each year for three years because of a shift in the way we calculate pensions and we expect that when we get the details of the counter terrorism budget disbursement, we will be able perhaps even to build on that. Borough councils may not have been as generously looked after.
Brian Coleman (Deputy Chairman): Specifically only a 1% rise in the fire grant is surely a disappointment, particularly to us here in London, with the pressures on the resilience budget.
Ken Livingstone (Mayor): I used to disagree endlessly with Anne McMeel [former Executive Director, Finance and Performance, GLA] about this because I just take the broad view that what people get on their doorstep is the GLA precept and it is the totality of it. What we have seen year by year is that sometimes the Government is more generous on transport spending, sometimes on policing. We have never yet had a budget where we have not seen some increased benefit in terms of funding across the board in total. We were quite worried about where we might be with policing but in fact I think we have been quite generously dealt with on the policing side by the Home Secretary. It is swings and roundabouts and one has to bear in mind it is all against the background of the £16 billion go-ahead for Crossrail of which the Government is putting up £5.5 billion. The rest of the country is all going mad saying, “Why does London keep getting all this?”