Susan Hall is the Leader of the Conservative Group on the London Assembly.
Sadiq Khan’s tax-hike budget is a slap in the face of every struggling Londoner. The capital’s streets are empty, businesses are closed, and people are desperately worried about their livelihoods. It’s the worst possible time for the Mayor to increase his council tax share by 9.5 per cent. To add insult to injury, he’s misleading Londoners by claiming he has no choice. He does. We gave him the choice and he didn’t take it.
The Conservative Group on the London Assembly presented the Mayor with a gift – a fully costed alternative budget that would freeze council tax and deliver on Londoners’ priorities. Instead of a tax-hike, our plan would make nearly £100 million in savings across the Greater London Authority by cutting waste.
We would make the savings by scrapping the Mayor’s statue-toppling commission, cutting his PR budgets, and reducing the GLA’s promotional spending. In total, this would save a whopping £8 million. We would save nearly £90 million more by reforming Transport for London’s bonuses, perks, and pensions, which have spiralled out of control under Khan.
We proposed using this money to fully fund London’s concessionary travel, including free travel for under 18s and discounted fares for over-60s, invest £45 million in policing, and freeze the Mayor’s share of council tax.
Our plan would also create a new £50 million London Recovery Fund to help businesses bounce back from the pandemic. This would be fifty times the size of the Mayor’s pathetically small ‘Back to Business’ fund and paid for using the GLA’s sizeable Business Rate Reserves.
This Conservative plan is the budget Londoners deserve. It delivers on their priorities, by keeping London safe and moving, as well as investing in our city’s recovery. Shamefully, but unsurprisingly, the Mayor rejected it. Why? It would defund his self-promotional budgets and force him to take on his trade union allies.
Without a doubt, Khan’s number one priority as Mayor is self-promotion. Instead of focusing on delivering as Mayor, Khan thinks he’s auditioning for higher office. That’s why he’s increased his press office spending by 33 per cent and jumped on every passing bandwagon.
Khan’s latest virtue-signalling project is his expensive statue-toppling commission. Packed with unelected activists, Khan thought the cash was worth it to make Toyin Agbetu – who’s now resigned due to past anti-Semitic comments – and other individuals, judge and jury of British history. It’s an outrageous waste of taxpayers’ cash, particularly at a time of economic crisis, but Khan thinks it’s good press.
Coronavirus has unveiled the deep-rooted problems in Transport for London, which Khan has repeatedly ignored. TfL’s own Independent Review said the body’s gold-plated pension scheme was “out-dated and must be reformed”. The review told the Mayor that modernisation would save up to £100 million. But he ignored the recommendation and instead chose to increase council tax.
He then preceded to ignore TfL’s Financial Sustainability Plan’s advice, which recommended that any review of its reward scheme should include pensions as well as its bonuses and perks. TfL’s bonus scheme awarded more than £15 million in 2019, and its nominee passes, which offer free travel to staff’s flatmates and even lodgers, cost TfL more than £40 million in a normal year in lost revenue.
The Mayor’s failure to reform TfL is deliberate. Sadiq Khan is worried about taking on the trade unions. He promised Londoners there would be “zero days of strikes” if he was elected, and there have already been more than thirty separate strikes. That’s why Khan is prepared to turn a blind eye to TfL’s woes and ask taxpayers to fork out more cash – it keeps the unions on his side.
In the Mayor’s budget, Londoners can see the cost of Khan. Far from having no choice but to increase council tax, he has an array of options to save money at City Hall and Transport for London. Unfortunately for Londoners, Khan hasn’t got their priorities at heart. Londoners deserve a Mayor who will put them first.