Thursday, 29 January 2009

*Mayor’s budget – mean not green

By Darren Johnson AM

With the economy in trouble it is natural to expect the Greater London Authority to tighten its belt and limit spending. What London does not expect is a budget with no provision to safeguard the capital from the global recession. Savings need to be made, but not to health, housing, equalities, the environment and social inclusion.

Boris Johnson has cancelled the Green Homes Service, a scheme that could provide valuable jobs for Londoners in these precarious times. A project moreover, which, with its commitment to insulation and renewable energy would help to drive down our household fuel bills.

The Mayor has also cut the funding to the London Cycle Network Plus by £10 million. The completion of the scheme would not only save people money by encouraging them to cycle, it is also essential to the safety of cyclists throughout the capital. The establishment of cycling routes through roundabouts and dangerous junctions is a project that will save lives and is all the more necessary with imminent introduction of Velib in 2010

Boris Johnson has cut funding for work on equalities. In one of the most multi-cultural cities in the world that is still blighted by unacceptable gaps between rich and poor, this vital work needs to continue. In a time of recession it is the poorest and least socially integrated that are likely to be hit the hardest.

The Mayor has also reduced funding for rape crisis centres, turning his back on one of his election pledges despite a 16% increase in the number of reported rapes last year.

Boris Johnson has not just cut valuable projects to make savings, however. He has increased the economic burden on the average Londoner. Despite his promise of a zero increase to the council tax precept he has raised public transport fares above the rate of inflation, costing a typical working household an extra £180 a year. The Mayor today told me that this was a necessary increase fares due to a “hole” in the Transport for London budget. What he fails to realise is that this is a hole he himself has created through his expensive plans to phase out bendy buses and his decision to drop plans for an emissions based £25 congestion charge for gas guzzling vehicles.

It is easy to complain about all of these things. But alone in the Assembly, today, only the Green Party Group produced a detailed, costed alternative to the Mayor’s budget. While we do not dispute that some key savings need to be made, the Green budget proposals reverse the damaging cuts to essential work on the environment, equalities, housing and health. Our proposals increase the funding for completion of the London cycle Network, provide much needed investment for work on safer streets and public transport as well as reducing fares. This would be funded by cancelling the Mayor’s expensive plans to phase out bendy buses, reinstating plans for a £25 emissions based congestion charge and increasing the standard congestion charge top £10. In order to create new jobs and cut household fuel bills we are proposing to re-instate and expand the Green Homes Service and invest in wind energy schemes and a household insulation programme.

While the Mayor is proposing cuts and fares increases to deliver a zero council tax increase, the Greens are proposing a very modest precept increase of just 7 pence per week for a Band D council tax payer to help deliver a fairer, healthier London.

What Londoner’s need is a capital that is not over-dependent on the financial sector; an economy unaffected by fluctuating fuel prices and a budget that will help to lead our city out the recession. The Mayor’s budget has failed on all fronts. Despite his green rhetoric and promises of a more affordable city, Boris Johnson’s policies will make London more expensive and more polluted.

No comments: