The London budget

It’s the first of our budget debates today at the GLA. The process is: Ken presents his budget, we ask him lots of questions, then each of the five parties can put forward an amendment to the Mayor’s budget. Then they are voted down as each party usually only supports their own amendment.

Then the parties see if they can get a two-thirds majority and agree on a form of words to amend the budget. Then that is debated and voted on. And thus it was. Except Labour didn’t put forward an amendment because the Mayor is now back in the fold and they’re keener on supporting him than (the proper GLA role of) scrutinising his plans.

All the parties supported the Metropolitan Police budget in full. Everyone clearly recognises that we need to roll out Safer Neighbourhoods and get police on the beat, ring-fenced in every neighbourhood. This year a further five areas per borough will be delivered.

However the Mayor’s demand for more cash for transport doesn’t stand up in the detail.

We break for lunch – during which Ken corners me to ask why on earth I want to go to Parliament because it’s so awful and I am having a good time at the Assembly. I understand what he is getting at (he didn’t have a very good time there I know) but I explain that taking a Labour borough like Haringey and bringing Liberal Democracy there is a worthwhile challenge – and that Parliament will open up a whole new set of challenges. Ken is – whatever our differences – still a proper human being. And that side of him I can relate to.

As predicted – all the amendments fall and then Lib Dems, UKIP, Tories and Greens hash out a joint amendment which calls for a lowering of the precept (the bit the Mayor takes from our Council Tax bills) but also manages to put more money into road safety and environmental issues. This may not sound like much – but it is passed by the critical two-thirds majority and makes history as this is the first time the Assembly has used its power to thwart the Mayor’s cash grab.

The process will continue – and the Mayor now has to come back to the Assembly on 14th February with a rearranged budget. If our two-thirds majority holds (and I have no doubt that the Mayor will be desperately trying to buy the Greens off with bribes) then the Mayor will be forced to lower the precept.

Of course, Ken being Ken is furious, and immediately launches into the media (aka Evening Standard) to declare that if he doesn’t get exactly the precept he wants he will have to raise tube fares.

Nonsense! We will simply be removing padding from the transport budget. What the Mayor really means is that his costs on the tube are escalating because negotiations with the tube unions have delivered everything the unions want but at a cost – which he now has to find money for. Any rise in tube fares will be about his failure to negotiate a balanced deal.