Londoners are paying the price for Sadiq Khan breaking the bank at City Hall
If Sadiq Khan is going to solve City Hall's money woes, he is going to have to put Londoners' priorities first and cut his wasteful virtue-signalling initiatives.
In the wake of the coronavirus crisis, the Greater London Authority faces, we are told, a whopping £493 million black hole in its budget over the next two years. It means for the first time as Mayor, Sadiq Khan must save money, rather than spend it.
Unfortunately for Londoners, the Mayor is already lining up cuts to his budget for London's emergency services. On Friday Khan unveiled his plan to balance City Hall's books by cutting £109.3 million from Metropolitan Police and £25 million from the London Fire Brigade.
Despite his warnings of a new austerity post-coronavirus, an approach which the Government has rejected, Sadiq Khan is ironically planning to impose it on London himself. And Khan's proposed cuts are not small. His policing cuts alone are the equivalent to the salaries of 1,681 police officers.
As usual, Sadiq Khan is treating this crisis as a press opportunity to attack the Government, rather than a problem he is responsible for solving. His gambit is that by playing the part of a 'poor Mayor' and publicly calling for ministers to step in and bail him out again, Londoners will not notice that he is the one choosing to drop the axe on the vital services that keep our city safe.
While the Mayor may choose to shirk responsibility, he does have a choice when it comes to balancing City Hall's books. He could safeguard the budgets of London's police and fire brigade by reversing his huge spending increases on City Hall waste and TfL perks for the past four years.
In February, my Conservative London Assembly colleagues and I proposed an alternative budget plan which identified £113 million of savings the Mayor could make to invest in London's emergency services. Sadly, Khan rejected our proposal at the time, but if he looked again at our plan, he could find enough savings to protect the budgets of London's police and fire brigade.
To fix City Hall's finances, Sadiq Khan must cut his ridiculous projects and his eye-watering splurges. At the most ludicrous end, Khan has splashed almost half a million pounds on pop-up beach parties at the Royal Docks, £30k on a bicycle ballet to explore female liberation, and £1.7 million on a hundred, rather ugly, water fountains. Only a particularly inept Mayor could prioritise these projects above extra police officers.
However, as infuriating as these examples are, the blood boils when one considers the millions of pounds Khan is wasting at City Hall and Transport for London. Instead of keeping Londoners safe, the Mayor has chosen to increase City Hall's staffing costs by 82%, lose a record £44 million in revenue to fund free travel for TfL staff's flatmates, and he has nearly doubled his culture budget.
As daunting as the black hole is in City Hall's budget, reversing Sadiq Khan's irresponsible spending decisions would protect London's emergency services from the chopping block.
However, Londoners shouldn't hold their breath. If the Mayor refused to cut his waste to fund extra police officers for the past four years, as knife crime rose to record levels and murder soared to an 11-year high, he is hardly going to change his priorities now.
If the Government stepped in this time to help pay Khan's City Hall bills, it would be the Mayor's third bailout. His first was for Crossrail, which was on time and budget when he inherited it. It is now more than three years late and more than £3 billion over budget. His second was for TfL this year, which entered this crisis in a weak and unprepared state with a record £12 billion in debt and twenty-one major transport projects delayed or cancelled. And now Khan wants his third bailout, this time to keep his bloated City Hall bureaucracy afloat.
After the disastrous press the Mayor rightly received for his role in the collapse of TfL's finances, Sadiq Khan is playing a different game this time. He has promised to cut his pay by 10% and is even proposing to close City Hall and move to a questionable alternative, The Crystal, to save (we are told) £11 million a year. However, the Mayor's PR efforts to win sympathy for his financial woes will ring hollow as Londoners remember the millions of pounds he has wasted.
If Khan is going to receive a third bailout, ministers should make it clear he must cut his waste to safeguard the budgets of London's emergency services. However, any Mayor with Londoners' priorities at heart would have chosen to do it themselves.
I will pay Sadiq Khan one compliment when it comes to his mayoralty. He has achieved something remarkable. He has turned the Mayor of London from being one of the most powerful roles in the country into a broke office looking for a discount City Hall. Sadly it's Londoners who are paying the price.
Article by Susan Hall AM first published by The Telegraph.