I rather agree with the comments made on this site about the London Assembly being a waste of £8 million and that cheaper ways could be found to hold the Mayor of London to account. I suspect most Council leaders in the 32 boroughs would be happy to pitch up to City Hall once a month to ask Boris some challenging questions for free – rather than the present arrangement which costs £250,000 on the Council Tax for each borough.
But some London Assembly members were certainly trying to earn their salaries at the Mayor's Question Time on Wednesday, webcast here.
Brian Coleman asked about diversity officers. TfL employ eight. The London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority employ six, the London Development Agency employ seven, the Metropolitan Police Authority six, Greater London Authority directly employs another 11. Coleman said we should be "mainstreaming equalities, leave the 1990s agenda behind and therefore get rid of these posts. Diversity is not delivered by Diversity Officers."
The Mayor responded: "Obviously you are right that we should be trying to mainstream diversity. There have been severe reductions." The trouble is that he then taIked about how he "wouldn't want us to be sending out a signal we don't think these things are important" and added: "I won't do things which compromise the image of this organisation." Coleman responded: "It's not about image it's about delivering services." The session then turned into The Mayor's Questions to Brian Coleman. Boris challenged Brian about why were the six employed at LFEPA, "pro rata" rather a lot given that Brian Coleman is the Chairman. "I can assure you that will be addressed in next year's budget proposals," Coleman replied.
Boris that asked Brian what the Fire Brigade was doing to actually tackle discrimination. "The trade union and the Old Labour attitudes have continued with disgraceful discrimination against women fire fighters and black fire fighters never mind lesbian and gay fire fighters and these are the practices which we have been countering since taking control," said Brian.
Andrew Boff joined in: "Can I urge you not to enter into the invitation from Stonewall to enter into the Stonewall Index." Boff thinks that the gay rights group is partisan. Quite right, Andrew. It is run by Ben Summerskill, a former Labour councillor in Westminster and part of a Socialist dynasty (Edith, Shirley.) I used to sit next to him when he worked a the Evening Standard and found him an engaging fellow – but he is thoroughly partisan.
Richard Barnes then chimed in: "We should not get hung up on the titles that officers have." A timely warning. We don't want the bureaucrats fooling us by saying: "We have no Diversity Officers" – when it turns out they have changed their job titles to Equalities Officers.
Another Conservative London Assembly member Gareth Bacon asked about the £97 million cost of providing disabled access to Green Park tube station. The Mayor said abandoning this would mean "kissing goodbye to £34 million" which had already been spent.Yet £63 million could have been saved. "I get lobbied the whole time for step free access," said Boris. But the gap of eight to ten inches, up or out, means that even though those stations which have disabled access they would need a member of staff to provide a ramp. That's why you never see anyone on the tube on a wheelchair. That's why the £63 million being spent is "symbolic" it is of not tangible benefit.
Roger Evans and Andrew Boff then asked about Dial a Ride. This is a fleet of 317 minibuses, funded by TfL. It costs £31 million a year to provide wheelchair users with 1.2 million passenger journeys. Yet the service is not sufficient to meet demand. Often those requesting a lift are turned down. 400 users a day fail to get the journey they want.
Here's an idea. Why doesn't Boris hold a referendum among the 121,000 Londoners who qualify for a disabled travel pass. Let them decide whether they would like £63 million spent on the disabled access to Green Park or on boosting the Dial a Ride service. He should stop listening to disabled lobby groups and start listening to the disabled people themselves.
Here's another idea. If Boris chooses to continue employing eight diversity officers at TfL or wasting £63 million on a symbolic project then he should stop claiming in the Evening Standard of "having cut costs to the bone" at TfL.