Sadiq Khan’s proposed 3.6 per cent Council Tax hike for 2020/21 has passed its final hurdle, despite failing to win majority backing from the London Assembly.
The increase, raising Band D Council Taxpayers’ annual City Hall bill from £320.51 to £332.07, or 22 pence a week, will see Londoners contributing just over £1 billion towards the Mayor’s overall £13.4 billion revenue budget, with the bulk of the extra cash paying for 600 more police officers.
Legislation requiring a two-thirds majority to overturn the City Hall budget saw Khan’s spending plans going forward despite Conservative, Green, “Brexit Alliance” and the sole Lib Dem AM Caroline Pidgeon combining to vote it down by 13 votes to 10 at yesterday’s Assembly meeting, with Pidgeon citing her opposition in particular to Khan’s controversial Silvertown Tunnel Thames crossing scheme.
In 20 years’ of City Hall budgets since the Greater London Authority was established, the two-thirds majority hurdle has ensured that mayoral spending plans have never been rejected, while extra powers accruing to City Hall have seen annual spending rise from an initial £35 million in 2000 to this year’s multi-billion pound programme.
With Mayor Khan’s Council Tax demand set at the maximum allowed without a referendum being held, and complex legal arrangements limiting the Assembly’s room for manoeuvre, AMs’ attempts to re-jig the budget also came to nothing, in a session which, as several of them noted, had a distinct pre-election flavour.
Tory plans for an “emergency” cash injection of £104 million into policing, paid for by staffing cuts, reducing spending on cultural activity, axing City Hall’s inward investment and promotional agency London and Partners and scrapping TfL’s staff scheme giving free travel to a family member or friend, was rejected by 13 votes to nine, despite Tory group leader Susan Hall asserting it was Khan’s “last chance to show he can be a Mayor for all Londoners”.
Green Party proposals to dip into an unallocated “strategic investment” pot to fund £100 million of “green new deal” spending, a £1.50 “Sundays out” flat fare across the TfL network on one Sunday a month and free entry to all TfL toilets also fell, despite winning Lib Dem backing, by three votes to 20.
Meanwhile Khan was able to unveil £143 million-worth of extra spending on top of his December draft budget proposals, thanks to “updated” forecasts of the totals due from Council Tax and Business Rate payers, with Business Rate income in particular coming in at £114 million more than originally estimated.
The windfall will boost extra police spending by £30 million to more than £100 million, Khan announced. An extra £50 million will support City Hall’s “green new deal”, an additional £25 million will boost the Young Londoners’ fund to £70 million, and there will be cash to fund a second Central London “car-free” day.
The plans also include support for Khan’s targets of building 116,000 affordable homes by 2022, extending the Ultra-Low Emission Zone to include the whole of London within the north and south circular roads, extra spending on adult education – now under City Hall control for the first time – more trees, and 100 new public drinking fountains.
They also confirm a further TfL fares freeze, but currently only until the end of 2020, noting nevertheless that while TfL business plans assume fares rising by the retail price index plus one per cent from January 2021, “this is only a business planning assumption by TfL as fares are set by the Mayor on an annual basis”.
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