Sadiq Khan’s final budget for 2021/22 has been confirmed after London Assembly Members subjected it to its final scrutiny and following some party political sniping as campaigning for May’s mayoral election gathers intensity.
Introducing the budget at the start of this month’s regular Mayor’s Question Times session, Khan said the capital has had to contend with “the perfect storm of increased costs associated with responding to the pandemic” combined with the Covid-induced falls in revenue from Business Rates and Council Tax and financial crisis at Transport for London.
Renewing criticism of national government funding for the Metropolitan Police, the Labour Mayor said that better than feared local tax yields mean he can allocate £30 million more than previously expected to “support frontline policing”, which he said would mean “we can keep an additional 1,000 police officers on our streets for the next four years”, along with “an extra £8 million” to spend on crime prevention programmes.
There is also £5 million more previously allocated “to support jobs, businesses and growth” in Central London as it strives to recover from the pandemic. The GLA will be working with businesses on “new initiatives to encourage Londoners and tourists” to return to enjoying the capital’s restaurants, shops and cultural attractions, including staging “major events”, the Mayor said.
The “green new deal mission” will receive £700,000 more than expected in each of the next two years along with a further £4.2 million for the London vehicle scrappage scheme, designed to encourage people to switch to less-polluting cars and vans.
Previously planned reductions to other GLA programmes and functional bodies have now been scaled back, with Khan expressing particular pleasure that the London Fire Brigade will no longer have to making savings that had been pencilled in for next year. Cuts faced by the Assembly have been substantially reduced. Khan described the financial challenge facing London as “staggering” but nonetheless expressed optimism for its future.
In questions, Green Party mayoral candidate Sian Berry noted from the budget document that the additional £30 million for police officers effectively avoids the need to draw on financial reserves previously set aside to meet the cost of the additional 1,000 officers mentioned by Khan in advance of an expected longer-term government settlement.
Berry also questioned whether the share of allocations between the Met and crime prevention work reflects “the right balance” between the two. Khan replied that the £13 million for the Met provided certainty over a four-year period that is particularly important given that the amount of Business Rates income can be uncertain from year to year. Berry, however, expressed concern about a reduction in the budget of the Mayor’s Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) expected next year. She urged him to put “equal effort into securing the future of the VRU”.
In earlier exchanges hindered by malfunctions in the remote technology, Khan clashed with Conservative AM Shaun Bailey, another of his challengers for the election on 6 May, over the process that led to the appointment of a member of his Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm who has now resigned after online remarks from several years ago surfaced which critics regard as antisemitic.
Responding to Bailey suggesting that vetting had been lax, Khan suggested that the Conservative national government could learn from City Hall’s appointment processes, referring to government Covid-response contracts being awarded without competitive tender to friends and business acquaintances of Tory ministers and other MPs. Members of the diversity commission are not being paid for their work.
Assembly Members voted by 12 to 11 against approving the budget, but it was passed anyway in law as those opposed were unable to agree on an amendment to it.
Today’s Mayor’s Question Time on the final budget can be seen in full here.
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