Boris Johnson is currently overseeing one the biggest cuts programmes of London’s emergency services since their inception. The Metropolitan Police is set to lose 65 police stations and front counters. The London Fire Brigade is under pressure to close 12 fire stations, cut 18 fire engines and axe 520 fire fighters. Up to eight Accident and Emergency departments are at risk in the capital. And the London Ambulance Service is being cut by £53 million and losing 590 frontline staff.
Boris’s recent advice at Davos was to “junk the rhetoric of austerity and be confident” yet his policies in London paint an extremely bleak picture of cuts, cuts and more cuts. He thinks Londoners should obey the old adage of ‘keep calm and carry on’ but there is wide-ranging opposition to his planned closures which he can not ignore.
The Mayor may shrug his shoulders and say he is doing all he can, but the simple truth is that he isn’t. Where is the alternative that could benefit hard-working Londoners choosing between food, fuel or rent? Boris is actively embracing austerity. At a time when ordinary Londoners are struggling and the economy is flat-lining he must do more.
Boris has already grabbed £34 million this year from Londoner’s pockets with his unnecessary fare increase. On Boris’s watch we’ve seen bus fares rise by 50 per cent and weekly travel cards by 20 per cent. The Mayor has the power to bear down on fare rises and put money back in Londoners pockets but it has been above-inflation fare rise upon above-inflation fare rise every year since he was elected. His plan is for that pattern to continue for the next four years.
Top of Boris’s list at Davos was to build more housing but London’s affordable housing budget has been cut by nearly 70 per cent from 2011. Between April and September 2012 only 425 new affordable homes were started in the capital.
Boris’s arrogance knows no bounds. He’s most recent appointee, Andrew Gilligan, has been made his Cycling Tsar but has no experience of making transport or cycling policy. Gilligan joins Veronica Wadley, Gerard Lyons and Ray Lewis who have all been appointed by the Mayor in the last few months. So far that’s £280,000 of taxpayers money on jobs for his friends.
At a time when he is cutting the London Fire Brigade’s budget by £45 million, raising transport fares for the fifth year running as well as closing police stations across London, you might assume he would be practicing frugality. Unfortunately, London’s Mayor is more likely to boasting about how he earns more then the Prime Minister, to the Prime Minister. If Boris is genuine about fighting against the rhetoric and practice of austerity, he’ll need to do an awful lot more than call for a tax cut for millionaires and give jobs to his buddies.
This City Hall Watch column was published in Tribune edition for 8-21st Feb