Questions to the Mayor on his Final Draft Consolidated Budget (Supplementary) [2]

Session date: 
February 23, 2015
Question By: 
John Biggs
Labour Group
Asked Of: 
The Mayor


John Biggs AM:  History will judge that this is a budget with two sides to it.  The first is that you have failed to challenge the bloated budgets and opacity of TfL.  Caroline Pidgeon is quite right.  TfL can afford to reverse those decisions about outer London travellers quite easily and that will be taken up by my colleagues.


The second part of it, though, is about the precept and council tax.  I worry about your successor, whomever that is, whether it is a Conservative, Labour, Green or whatever.  They are going to be facing £200 million-a-year cuts in their budgets year-on-year for policing, just as one example.  Can we really justify your flag-waving totemic cut on the council tax?


I will give you a couple of quotes.  I asked a number of councils - Lincolnshire County Council, Lincolnshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Buckinghamshire County Council, Dorset County Council, Guildford Borough Council, Surrey County Council, Worcestershire County Council - and what do they all have in common?  They are all flag-waving Conservative councils and they are all increasing their council taxes this year.  I am not suggesting we increase the council tax ‑‑


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  That is what you say.


John Biggs AM:  ‑‑ but can you really justify the cut?  I will just give you a couple of quotes.  Lincolnshire say they are increasing council tax to maintain services; they are “only steering clear of a referendum to avoid burdening taxpayers with the cost of a poll”, so they would like to put it up by more than 2%.  Buckinghamshire say:


“We do not want to increase council tax.  However, over the next three years our Government grant will be cut.”


Dorset say there was a reduction in grants to the local authority, “a large proportion of which was due to school budget changes”, forcing them to put their council tax up.  At Guildford Borough Council, because of the “black hole created by the lack of Government funding”, they are putting their council tax up.


You are making a rather small change, but nevertheless it will create a cumulative problem for your successor.  How do you really justify that?


Answer for Questions to the Mayor on his Final Draft Consolidated Budget (Supplementary) [2]

Answer for Questions to the Mayor on his Final Draft Consolidated Budget (Supplementary) [2]

Answered By: 
The Mayor

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  It is obviously the case that previous Labour administrations in this place have put up council tax massively by about 153%.


John Biggs AM:  It has been used to provide policing for our city.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  This is a way of bearing down on the cost of council tax, which falls on all homeowners, all ‑‑


John Biggs AM:  It has been used for policing for our city.


Roger Evans AM (Chairman):  Mr Biggs, can you not heckle the Mayor when he is responding to your question?


John Biggs AM:  I was being helpful to the Mayor.


Roger Evans AM (Chairman):  That is questionable.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Indeed, John was being helpful because he is highlighting one of the gross injustices of the previous regime, which was to whack up council tax mercilessly year after year.  It falls on every resident in London and every council taxpayer in London.  It is a tax that nobody can escape no matter what their income.  We decided to reduce it and we have.  We will continue with admittedly modest but not insignificant cuts in council tax throughout this mayoralty.


On the broader point about transport funding and the allegedly bloated TfL budget, I would remind you of the huge sums that have been taken out of TfL’s spending packages.  I would remind you of the substantial cuts that have been made in TfL, the numbers of buildings disposed of and the reductions in the numbers of staff.  Above all, I would remind you of the colossal programme of investment that we have to meet.  Actually, it was extremely encouraging that last week the Chancellor was able to guarantee the next £9.7 billion of funding for TfL over the lifetime of the next Parliament, which is by no means something we could have taken for granted.  These sums are absolutely indispensable for the continued upgrades of the Tube, for the maintenance of the biggest bus fleet.


John Biggs AM:  OK.  That is very helpful as far as it goes, but it is basically flannelling now.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  It is not.


John Biggs AM:  He is not really answering the question.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  I am often attacked by your side of the Assembly, for instance, for cutting bus routes or ‑‑


John Biggs AM:  You are eating up time with no real additional information.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  With great respect, I do not think your question sought any particular information.


John Biggs AM:  You are doing it again now.  He has finally stopped.  The problem we have with your argument is that Londoners are not really as stupid as you think they are.  They are facing on the one hand a big whack out of their wallets for fares while there is a miniscule cut in the council tax and it does not really add up.  A Mayor who pretends to be hair-shirt is in reality ripping people off.  The problem is ‑‑


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  No.  I am sorry.  You cannot have it both ways.


John Biggs AM:  Let me finish the argument.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  You cannot go around endlessly demanding more bus routes, as your side does ‑‑


John Biggs AM:  No, the argument is very --


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  ‑‑ and endlessly demanding more investment in transport without having a serious and sensible fares package.


John Biggs AM:  The argument is very simple.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  You will remember full well that it was your side of the Assembly ‑‑


John Biggs AM:  I have not finished the question, Roger [Roger Evans AM, Chairman].


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  ‑‑ that pretended to cut fares or rather alleged that they were frozen before elections and then whacked them up vertiginously after elections.  That is not an approach that we have adopted.


John Biggs AM:  Wait and see when we have a Labour Mayor whether they do that or not because I do not --


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  It is certainly what the last one did.  We had it.  That is what he did.  Maybe he has been written out of history in true Stalinist fashion.  Perhaps like Trotsky he has been expunged from the photographs!  However, that is what he did.


John Biggs AM:  I will finish with this, then.  I will finish with this.  You are taxing working Londoners who live in outer London.  I will quote you a well-known socialist, who said:


“We need to make sure that Tube and bus fares are cheaper so that Londoners, especially those who keep the city running - the nurses, teachers and paramedics - can pay less for the effort of getting into work.”


Do you know which socialist that was?  It was Stephen Greenhalgh, the Conservative [Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime]. --


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  I agree with him in the obvious sense that we have over the last few years done absolutely everything we can to bear down on fares.  We have kept them at the retail price index (RPI) for two years running.


John Biggs AM:  You should have listened to him.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  We have kept them at RPI for two years running.  If you had pursued the meretricious and duplicitous policy of cutting before the election or going into an election pretending that you are going to cut fares, as you did before the 2012 election with the 7% cut you were offering Londoners, you would immediately have had to rectify that with dramatic increases in fares ‑‑


John Biggs AM:  You are just making it up.  He is making it up.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  ‑‑ in order to staunch the haemorrhage of cash from TfL.  That cash is, I am afraid, essential if we are going to have a world-class transport network and get people to work.


Those people earlier on who were protesting about housing, they want homes built.  There is no way we can build homes ‑‑


John Biggs AM:  This is just blather.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  ‑‑ in those brownfield sites in London unless we put in transport infrastructure ‑‑


John Biggs AM:  OK.  We have had enough now.  Thank you.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  ‑‑ that will get people to those sites and you know that very well.