Gareth Bacon is the Leader of the Conservative Group on the London Assembly.
On a spring morning just over three years ago, London awoke to find that it had a new Mayor – the first holder of the office not called Ken or Boris.
More than a million Londoners put their trust in Sadiq Khan on the back of some big promises. The new Mayor reassured us that he was going to make our city a “safe and secure place.” He pledged that we wouldn’t pay a penny more to travel around the city, although this wouldn’t come at the expense of infrastructure upgrades. London’s housing crisis would be consigned to the dustbin of history – housing was, after all, his top priority. Outer London wasn’t going to be ignored, indeed the unique character of London’s suburbs would be preserved and enhanced.
Our new report, Cost of Khan 3, evaluates the Mayor’s performance since 2016. We find that Khan’s rhetoric fails to match his record, and that his complacency, incompetence, and tendency to shirk responsibility has meant that London has shifted into reverse gear.
The Mayor’s first duty is to keep Londoners safe and, on this score, he is undeniably failing. Since Khan came to office, burglary is up by 37 percent, and robbery has surged by an eye-watering 59 percent. Most tragically, the 52 percent rise in knife crime has taken the lives of far too many young Londoners. In 2018 alone there were 135 homicides – the highest rate since 2008.
Khan’s predictable response to our city’s violent crime epidemic is to adopt his ‘not me guv’ routine. He will say that he is doing all he can within tight budgets and that the blame really lies with the government.
The Mayor’s attempt to pass the buck and plead poverty would carry more weight if he wasn’t spending millions on waste and bureaucracy instead of tackling crime. This cash-strapped Mayor has somehow managed to find an additional £22 million for staff, £11 million for the culture budget and £3 million for PR. He’s even splurged £400,000 on a beach party in Newham and £10 million on a test which enables Met Police officers to determine the ‘colour’ of their personality.
This is all money which could have been spent on keeping Londoners safe. At the Mayor’s last budget, the Conservative group tabled an amendment which would have enabled Khan to cut almost £83 million of waste and use the savings to invest in an additional 1,378 police officers for London. The fact that the Mayor rejected this plan speaks volumes about his priorities for London.
It’s not only our police which this Mayor is failing to fund properly. Khan’s failure to invest in public transport means that a whole host of promised infrastructure upgrades simply haven’t materialised. Just some of these delayed or cancelled projects include the Northern Line upgrade, the Bakerloo Line extension, and the Sutton tram. There is hardly a corner of London which hasn’t been hit by a lack of transport infrastructure investment.
These cancelled improvements have come about for one reason: the transport budget deficit is on course to hit almost £900 million by 2020. The Mayor’s decision to freeze fares has starved TfL of cash, although crucially Londoners who hold season tickets have been excluded from the freeze. Khan promised he’d keep the cost of travel down for everyone while still maintaining transport investment, but he’s delivered exactly the opposite.
The Crossrail debacle has greatly exacerbated this situation. When the Mayor came to office, Crossrail was on time and on budget, but Khan quickly took his eye off the ball while failing to make any contingency plans for delays and overruns. As a result, the project could now open over two years late, which will not only deprive Londoners of better transport links but also deprive TfL of between £600 million and £1 billion in lost revenue. Many parts of London which desperately need better transport infrastructure are being let down by this Mayor’s inability to balance the budget.
While the Mayor’s incompetence means that he doesn’t have the cash to spend on transport, the same can’t be said about housing. Khan has been given nearly £5 billion by the government to build 116,000 homes by 2022 but is failing to deliver. Although we are now halfway through the government’s programme, the Mayor has only started 34,515 new homes – just 30 percent of the overall target. The reality for so many young Londoners is that home ownership still remains an impossible dream.
Getting development right in London isn’t just about the volume of homes, but the type of homes too. Building more family-sized homes in London, especially outer London, is key to stemming the exodus of families to the home counties. Yet Sadiq Khan has removed a family homes target from his housing strategy (he’s the first Mayor in the history of the office to do so) and made it far easier to build small units on precious green spaces, including back gardens. Far from being a Mayor for all Londoners, Khan has neglected outer London, and failed to understand that a different approach is required when it comes to our city’s suburbs.
Being London Mayor is one of the best jobs in politics. Sadiq Khan has a far-reaching remit, an £18 billion budget, and the ability to change Londoners’ lives for the better. Three years in, it is clear that the Mayor is passing up his golden opportunity to deliver the positive change that Londoners need.