Sadiq Khan's new City Hall plan smacks more of PR pomp than saving taxpayers' money
Sadiq Khan hates scrutiny. He isn't willing to answer questions or take responsibility. Given a chance, I have no doubt the Mayor would scrap the London Assembly which is tasked with holding his feet to the fire. Fortunately for London, he can't do that, but his latest ill-considered plan to move City Hall demonstrates yet again why we need to watch his every move.
The Mayor intends on abandoning the iconic City Hall building to move the Greater London Authority to a lesser known base in east London called The Crystal. While the Mayor plans to have an office in the new City Hall building, it is merely symbolic. There is only room for about 150 staff at The Crystal currently, so Khan's team simply can't fit into the building. In reality, the Mayor and his Deputies will work from his proposed second office in Transport for London's palatial headquarters in central London. One could reasonably assume from this that Khan has masterminded this proposal to ensure he spends as little time as possible near the 25 London Assembly Members who are elected to hold him to account.
This is not to mention the fact that the current plan is full of gaping holes and simply does not hold water – the whole proposal is ridiculous. The Mayor has admitted he hasn't considered any alternatives. How can a consultation be meaningful when presented with only one option? There will only be roughly 600 desks for a staff of about 1,200 spread across three different buildings in London. And this poorly considered move has to be rushed because he has a limited time to break City Hall's current lease.
Khan claims the move will save £55 million over the next five years, helping to fix the projected £493 million black hole in the GLA's finances due to the coronavirus crisis. However, this appears to be a hugely inflated figure, and nowhere near the likely savings the move may make.
The Mayor's trumped-up saving calculation does not take into account the potential income from letting The Crystal and Khan's planned second office at TfL's Palestra building to a third-party. If City Hall were to stay put, letting this in-demand space would generate £23.5 million by 2026/27.
And Khan fails to take into account the £3.74 million the GLA could earn from commercial activities at The Crystal and existing City Hall building in that time. So the likely saving is only £27.76 million in the next half-decade, nearly 50 per cent less than Sadiq Khan claims.
Worse still, if the Mayor seriously negotiated a rent reduction for the existing building, the GLA estimates the savings could be as little as £3.2 million a year. And that's if the costs of the move don't exceed the £8 million Khan has planned. And being honest, no one ever expects moving to stay within budget. So it appears, Khan has hugely misled Londoners about the potential savings from moving City Hall to get a good headline.
For the Mayor, appearing to save money is more important than actually doing it. If Khan were serious about balancing the books, he would scrap the nominee passes perk which offers TfL staff's housemates free travel, costing an estimated £44 million a year in lost revenue. Or he would consider cutting the £7.9 million TfL wastes subsidising trade union activities. Khan could even reflect on the hundreds of thousands of pounds he has wasted on beach parties and bicycle ballet.
No other devolved administration has left its carefully designed home to find a discount option. As the greatest city in the world, London needs an iconic home for its regional government. If City Hall is to move, we need a financially sound plan and serious proposal.
Abandoning the City Hall building in this way is more about avoiding scrutiny and PR pomp than saving taxpayers' money. By separating the Assembly and the Mayor in such an ill-considered manner, Khan will rip the democratic heart out of City Hall. After four years of failure and the blame game, Khan needs to be more accountable, not less.
Article by Susan Hall AM first published by The Telegraph.