News from Murad Qureshi (past staff): Cut fares, freeze council tax and put 1,000 officers on our streets
London Assembly Member Murad Qureshi AM last week called on Boris Johnson to accept amendments to his 2015/16 Budget that would put an extra 1,000 police officers on London’s streets and cut transport fares by 2.5%.
The fully-funded plans were set out during a debate at City Hall last Wednesday when Assembly Members had the opportunity to propose amendments to the Mayor’s £17bn Budget for 2015/16. The proposal to fund an extra 1,025 police officers would mean the equivalent of an additional 33 officers back on the streets of Westminster and in every other London Borough. The proposals came amid concerns that violent crime in Westminster has risen by 21% in the last year and reports that only 61% of local people now believe police have a visible presence on the street. There has been growing public unease with the Mayor’s cuts to local neighbourhood policing, which have contributed to the loss of 4,333 uniformed officers across London since 2010, 729 of these in Westminster.
Amongst other policy proposals Murad Qureshi AM supported are plans to change Boris Johnson’s Budget and freeze fares at 2014 levels, reversing the 2.5% hike imposed on London’s commuters earlier this year. The cut to travel costs would give Londoners a year of much needed respite from fare rises, saving the average commuter £56 a year on a 1-6 Annual Travelcard. A recent study found that 76% of Londoners say fares are now ‘too high’ following the 40% rise in ticket costs since Boris Johnson came to power.
The fully-funded package of amendments to the Mayor’s Budget included freezing GLA’s share of council tax and putting the money saved by cancelling the Mayor’s proposed cut (which would save just 1p per day for each London household) into funding for the 1,000 new police officers. This would be boosted by additional funding drawn from a combination of savings within the Met’s existing budget, and from business rates. The 2.5% cut to fares would be funded by using TfL underspends of £81m, and increasing the target for savings, putting £98m back in to the pockets of Londoners.
Though blocked at last Wednesday’s meeting, the Mayor has the opportunity to revisit the proposals on 23rd February when the London Assembly comes together for a final vote on the Mayor’s £17bn budget.
Murad Qureshi AM, Labour Londonwide Assembly Member, said: “The Mayor’s Budget as it stands does nothing to address the serious concerns people in Westminster have about rising transport costs and a grossly diminished police force – two of the most serious issues facing London today. What Londoners want is a Budget which tackles these concerns head on, that is what our proposals seek to do.
“Funding an extra 1,000 police officers on London’s streets could mean the equivalent of 33 additional officers for our area. This could hugely influence our ability to tackle rising violent crime in Westminster and would provide much needed reassurance to people concerned about the impact of Boris Johnson’s cuts to the police force.
“This January Londoners faced the seventh year of fare increases under Boris Johnson. There is ample funding as a result of TfL underspends, so it is bewildering that Boris has allowed fares to rise faster than wages. With 76% of Londoners believing that fares are now ‘too high’, it is essential that we offer some respite to those struggling to cope with the costs of commuting. Cutting fares back to 2014 levels would help reduce pressure on those anxious that their pay-cheques will not stretch to cover Boris’ year on year fare hikes. “Whilst Boris’ tokenistic council tax cut would save Londoners seven pence a week, cutting fares to last year’s levels would save the average commuter far more each year. It’s clear which would leave most people in Westminster better off. ”
The summary of the Budget Amendment to be proposed at last Wednesday’s meeting by John Biggs AM reads:
We would reverse the Mayor’s 2.5% increase in transport fares that Boris Johnson has already announced for 2015-16. Instead, we would freeze fares at their current level putting £98m back in to pockets of hard-pressed Londoners, and restore the off-peak PAYG caps for zones 4-6. In order to benefit all Londoners, we would create a fund for more step free stations and put a further £20m into the cycling budget. To increase bus services for London’s poorest communities we propose to add 30 more hybrid buses to the fleet this year. We are keenly aware of the high levels of pollution in London and would therefore accelerate the process of cleaning up our aging bus fleet. We are clear that this re-balancing of costs between travellers and the corporate vaults of City Hall is affordable and right.
We would freeze the GLA’s share of the council tax at the 2014-15 level and use the £10.54m it generates to help free-up resources across the GLA family. These resources would enable us to provide London with over 1000 much-needed additional police officers. An average over 30 new police officers per borough. - Housing – We would tackle London’s chronic housing shortage by establishing a GLA-backed Housing Investment Company to directly commission the construction of new homes in addition to those currently built by Housing Associations using GLA affordable housing grants. We would also drive up standards for private tenants by investing in new programmes to tackle sub-standard properties. Furthermore, because no tenant should fear the consequences of a rogue landlord, we would empower tenants – the consumer – by giving them more information on rogue landlords and better access to legal representation, and by driving London’s worst landlords out of the market.
We would take genuine action to increase job opportunities in London through introducing a young person’s jobs guarantee, providing help for older Londoners to retrain and by reducing the excessive cost of childcare, which prevents many parents from returning to work. We would also introduce universal free school meals for all primary school age pupils in London, which would increase educational attainment, address food poverty and help parents who are struggling with the cost of living.
Recognising the imminent threat of climate change, London’s air quality crisis, and the increasing difficulty that many Londoners – particularly those on fixed incomes, such as pensioners – face heating their homes, we propose a research project in to the creation of community energy cooperatives in London; a London air quality study aimed at creating a bigger, stronger, ULEZ; the Clean Air Routes to School programme, which recognises and seeks to mitigate the effects of poor air quality on school children; the establishment of a GLA London ‘noise team’ to focus on aviation that blights the lives of many in the capital; and funding the H.E.A.T (Home Energy Advice Team) to help those in fuel poverty improve insulation in their homes and obtain the best energy tariffs.
We would provide grants to schools whose students face socio-economic barriers to academic attainment through the Supplementary Programmes for Schools (Leadership clubs) and out of hours tuition fund; replace the Mayor’s elitist ‘Gold Club of Schools’ programme with the GLA Education Kitemark scheme for schools that require and demonstrate improvement in a short space of time as part of the family of local authority schools; and introduce a schools matching unit to assist in matching new schools with the closest existing outstanding academy, rather than allow private companies to take over new schools in Mayoral approved developments.
We would invest further in reducing health inequalities and bridging the divide between physical and mental health services. We would form a London Health Inequalities Unit to monitor and address unfair health inequalities across London. We would commission a Mental Health Strategy for London to determine what is and what is not working for Londoners. The results of which would be used to establish a pan-London approach to mental health issues and connect the currently fragmented and dysfunctional system.
Murad Qureshi AM is a Labour Londonwide Assembly Member
For more information please contact London Assembly Labour Group press officer Alison Orlandi on 020 7983 5639 or 07795 616832. Number not for publication.