Friday, 29 October 2010

Cameron sharpens his axe for Boris's development agency

Staff at Boris Johnson's redevelopment agency were told today that only budgets "already legally committed" to would be paid next year as David Cameron gets set to axe the LDA.

News earlier this week that the agency's £489 million budget would be wiped out were confirmed by a spokesperson for the LDA today who said that the organisation would close entirely by 2012.

Their budget will be slashed to £56 million next year before disappearing altogether in 2012.

Hundreds of jobs will be lost in the process.

GLA Chief Executive Leo Boland told staff today that Boris was "continuing to negotiate with the Government over the LDA’s settlement" and "working through the potential impact" of the cuts.

However, the huge funding reductions means that many of the Mayor's development and environment programmes will soon cease to exist entirely.

Green Assembly Member Darren Johnson said today:

"The Government has cut the Mayor's plans to create 14,000 jobs, cut our energy bills and revitalise our parks. With no money to pay for his flagship programmes, his climate change strategies now lie in tatters. The Mayor's defence of the environment was more of a Maginot Line than a Stalingrad moment."

Continuing the theme Labour's mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone said that: 

“The Mayor’s so-called ‘Stalingrad-like’ defence of London is a sham. Events this week suggest an approach reminiscent of Dads Army than the Stalingrad style defence Boris Johnson promised."

The news follows a day in which Boris first made a passionate defence of housing benefits only to then make a humiliating reverse of his position just hours later.

His comments prompted open hostility from Cameron for the first time and the Prime Minister is now threatening to withdraw new powers promised to the Mayor.

All of which has caused some to ask just when Boris is going to find some backbone?

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Thames Clippers cut back in the evenings

The Thames Clipper service is to be dramatically cut back on both weekday and weekend evenings, it was revealed today.

The last weekday service east which currently leaves the Embankment just before midnight, will now leave just after nine, and the last service west will now leave just after eight.

The changes come as the government implement big cuts to transport subsidies and as TfL are sacking staff and raising fares.

Under such conditions, the already heavily subsidised and inefficient river service was never going to come out well.

Liberal Democrat Assembly Member Caroline Pidgeon, who noticed the changes said today:

"No one would ever accept the last bus leaving central London as being as early as nine o’clock in the evening -   there is no reason why river transport should be any different...

"The Mayor was elected promising to improve river services and claiming that the river should be a vital part of an integrated transport strategy.  This decision totally shatters that claim."

While I agree that this will affect those (very few) people who use the late service, I disagree that such a little used and niche service should be protected when others are going to the wall.

The river is an enjoyable option into town if you can afford the price and time it takes, but it was never going to be a replacement for the other far more direct and mass transit modes.

Of course the decision will be bad news for those who prefer to pay to avoid using the trains and buses with the rest of us.

But when money is tight these are exactly the sort of services that should be cut back first.

More reaction from the Greenwich end of the service at 853

Monday, 25 October 2010

Tories rally against Boris Johnson's "obscene" airport plans

Boris Johnson has angered his Conservative neighbours in Kent once again after reports that he is considering resurrecting a project to build an airport on the Hoo Peninsula.

Plans for an airport at Cliffe were dropped by the last Labour government following strong opposition in the local area.

And earlier this month the coalition government appeared to rule out Boris's preferred alternative, an island airport in the Thames Estuary:

Boris Johnson's plan for an airport in the Thames Estuary suffered a fresh blow today after senior ministers ruled it out on cost grounds.

Senior sources at the Department for Transport suggested that unless an “innovative model” to finance the £40 billion scheme was found it was “unlikely” to go ahead.

I think "unlikely" is being a little generous to this total non-starter of a scheme. 

However, the slightly more feasible option of building an airport on the Hoo Peninsula is now being pushed by some airline tycoon or other, and the Mayor is happy to let it be known he's interested.

However the Conservative leader of Medway Council, is not so happy:

"I am furious that this unwelcome proposal to concrete over the Hoo Peninsula to create an international airport is back on the table....

The pie in the sky idea of building an airport in the Thames Estuary, being pushed by Boris Johnson to deflect the debate away from Heathrow expansion, is virtually dead.

Yet still Boris persists by resurrecting unacceptable proposals to build an airport in Medway that would cause massive environmental damage and be potentially dangerous to passengers and aircraft through the risk of bird strike...

This is an obscene proposal that must never be allowed to get off the ground."

The press release goes on in similarly annoyed terms for another few paragraphs, which leaves me wondering:

Why does Boris continue to pursue these schemes that have no backing amongst his own party and which aren't even within his jurisdiction? 

Friday, 22 October 2010

George Osborne scraps London Development Agency

Further evidence of the dire settlement Boris Johnson negotiated from government comes with the news that the London Development Agency is going to be scrapped along with all of it's funding.

Dozens of organisations and projects central to the capital's future are under threat today after the London Development Agency's £480 million budget was axed.

The surprise move leaves Boris Johnson having to make up the funding shortfall from Whitehall departments.

The move to fold the LDA, the Mayor's economic regeneration body, in-house to City Hall was widely expected. But the Standard has learnt that the Treasury has decided to go a step further and wipe out the LDA's huge annual budget over the next four years.

The LDA has long been on the chopping block, but City Hall had briefed that most of it's funding would be distributed elsewhere.

However, this was either untrue, or the Mayor has simply been caught unawares:

"A senior LDA source said: “The Treasury seems to have pulled the rug out from under us. We expected to be merged but the plan was for the majority of funding to remain in place.”

A City Hall insider said: “The LDA without the money is nothing. No money means we'll just have to close it.”

He is now belatedly pledging to "fight this all the way."

But given the success of his "Stalingrad-like defence" of the Transport budget, I don't think anyone will be holding their breath.

-Update- Green London Assembly Member Darren Johnson said today:

"The Mayor's plans to create 14,000 jobs, cut our energy bills, improve recycling facilities and revitalise our parks could all be under threat. London can do without some of the LDA's work on international promotion, but we cannot afford to lose these pivotal environment and job creation projects. The Mayor must make the Treasury back down. Cuts of this scale would make the Mayor impotent in the face of the looming climate threat, and will seriously undermine his efforts to make London a nicer city to live in."

Tower Hamlets result proves that Labour still don't understand Mayoral politics

Imagine the scene:

A candidate overwhelmingly favoured by local party members is forced out by a national party that thinks it knows better.

His replacement is an un-charismatic figure whose candidacy is widely seen as illegitimate.

Pushing ahead regardless, the party romp to a stinking defeat, in an area they had previously won comfortably and against a candidate who just months previously had been part of their own party.

I'm talking here about the Tower Hamlets Mayoral result, but I could just as easily have been talking about Ken Livingstone's victory over Frank Dobson ten years ago.

And yet in the ten years that have passed the Labour party seem to have learnt almost nothing about the nature of mayoral politics.

Labour's losing candidate Helal Abbas said this morning:

"We may have lost tonight, but at least the Labour Party has clean hands."

And by imposing a candidate who even their own local members didn't want, Labour had washed their hands clean of any chance of winning the election.

Of course if Lutfur Rahman goes on to be the disaster they predict, they can at least have the comfort of self-righteousness.

Just as if Oona King had beaten Ken Livingstone, those same people would have gone on to self-righteously lose against Boris Johnson.

But in Mayoral politics all that counts is winning, and just like in 2000, Labour appear to have given up on that from the start.

Tower Hamlets result:

Lutfur Rahman (Independent)  23,283 
Helal Abbas (Labour) 11,254
Neil Anthony King (Conservatives) 5,348
John David Macleod Griffiths (Lib Dems)  2,800
Alan Duffell (Greens) 2,300

More on the ground coverage from Dave Hill and Diamond Geezer and more analysis from Mayor Watch.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

The Mayor (doesn't) answer to London

I've written before on how utterly useless the GLA are at responding to Freedom of Information requests.

Of all the many requests I've submitted only a handful have been answered on time and in full, and the whole process takes so long that most people won't even bother.

In fact their performance has got so bad that the Information Commissioner has now placed Transport for London on an official watchlist for late requests.

After last week's Mayor's Question Time, Conservative Assembly member Victoria Borwick submitted the following written question:

Victoria Borwick: The Information Commissioner has named and shamed TfL as one of the public bodies failing to adhere to FOI rules, what are TfL going to do to raise their game and ensure they do what is required of them? 

Answer from the Mayor: Officers are drafting a response which will be sent shortly.

Of course!

The Mayor also failed to answer another 30 or so questions within the required time, including this one:

Andrew Boff: How much does it cost to answer this question?

Answer from the Mayor: Officers are drafting a response which will be sent shortly.

You couldn't make it up. Meanwhile the Mayor's answer search on the GLA website has died:

I emailed the City Hall web team yesterday asking them to fix it.

Needless to say I haven't had a reply.

Evening Standard gives Boris Johnson a free ride on fare rises

I've searched in vain for any mention of Boris Johnson's stealth fare rises in yesterday's Evening Standard.

The hefty rises, contained within TfL's press release have been spotted by every London blogger and tweeter from Darryl to Diamond Geezer.

I mean even Andrew Gilligan has spotted them and last January he thought our fares were all going down!

And yet in London's only daily paper, Boris's third consecutive year of rises barely gets a mention.

There's a short piece on page eight which mostly concentrates on national rail fares and a couple of other pieces claiming that London is a "winner" from the spending review (it's not).

But other than that almost nothing. Nothing on changes to travelcards, nothing on the raising of the daily price cap and nothing on the 44% rise in the price of a bus ticket since Boris came to power.

It's a pretty sad spectacle from a paper that in most ways has vastly improved in the last two years.

Still at least one vital piece of London transport news gets squeezed into today's edition:

Lib Dem Assembly Member Caroline Pidgeon said today: 

“The Mayor was insulting Londoners by burying bad news like this on the day the Comprehensive Spending Review was announced. Boris Johnson was elected promising to stand up for outer London.  He specifically promised to make orbital journeys far easier.  In practice the Mayor is hitting hardest the people who travel around, rather than into London.  Commuters who only travel occassionaly are also being hit hard, and many will simply start driving to avoid such large increases in ticket prices.”

“This blatant attempt to hide the real details of next year’s fare package is exactly why there should be a proper consultation every year on the Mayor’s overall fare package.”

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Boris Johnson fails to save London from the cuts

Boris has just finished speaking at City Hall where he congratulated himself for "saving" London from savage cuts to London transport.

He said that he had "convinced" the Treasury of the importance of maintaining London's public transport and averted the "fiscal suicide" of severe cuts.

The message given by the Mayor was clear. His "Stalingrad-like defence" of the transport budget had succeeded, and if the assembled hacks could just briefly applaud then we could all be on our way.

However, the BBC's Tom Edwards was quick to point out that his claims of special treatment just didn't add up.

Approximately one-third of TfL's funding comes from a direct grant from the Department for Transport (DfT). Following the Government's Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR), TfL's overall grant funding from the DfT has been reduced by £2.17bn in total over the four years covered by the CSR, or 21 per cent in real terms in 2014/15, when compared to the base year of 2010/11.

Bus subsidies are also being slashed and overall fares are expected to rise well above inflation both on the tube and on National rail.

So despite all the months of briefing and speeches that he would save London commuters from the cuts, he's actually managed to lop a whopping 0% off of the transport cuts that are being dished out.

And that's before you even get on to the massive 78% cut to affordable housing and huge cuts to housing benefits and policing.

Now Boris will argue that if it were not for his behind-the-scenes lobbying, both Crossrail and the Tube upgrade would not be going ahead.

Of course there's no way of knowing exactly for sure.

However, this anecdote from Eric Pickle's office may give us some clues as to what happened behind closed doors:

There has been some puzzlement in Whitehall after Boris Johnson vowed to have it out with Eric Pickles over the latter’s plans - as yet undisclosed and undefined - to cut the £7bn London budget.

In a pre-emptive strike, a source close to Boris was quoted in the Mail on Sunday eight days ago promising to “explode” if his budget is cut by an “outrageous” 25 per cent. DCLG sources are bemused that there has been no conversation about funding between Pickles and Johnson in recent weeks and there is no meeting in the diary. “The whole exercise seems to have been artificially created to bolster Boris’s credentials,” says one.

And judging by the budget settlement those credentials are wearing increasingly thin at Number Ten.

-Update- TfL have now published those fare rises. Single bus fares go up to £1.30. That's 44% more expensive than when he was elected.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Why Labour only have themselves to blame in Tower Hamlets

All guns are out for Ken Livingstone today after his decision to openly campaign for a non-Labour  candidate in East London

It's the latest and most incendiary episode in the "absolute complete bloody shambles" that has been the Tower Hamlets Mayoral election.

From the very start Labour have been at war with themselves desperately trying to prevent former council leader Lutfur Rahman from becoming their candidate.

After winning a vote of local Labour members Lutfur was immediately mired in a string of accusations of electoral fraud and entryism.

None of this was proven but it was enough for Labour's ruling executive to move in and get rid of the candidate they never wanted in the first place.

The rights and wrongs of expelling Rahman are for others to judge, but it was what followed that was to prove Labour's biggest mistake.

Because rather than replace Rahman with the runner up in the selection process John Biggs, Labour's NEC took the disastrous decision to install the man who came third, Helal Abbas. 

To an outsider like myself this looked utterly bizarre.

The Labour party had kicked out Rahman, because he was under suspicion of covertly interfering with democratic processes.

And yet the first thing that Labour did after booting him out was to overtly interfere with those same democratic process.

So even if they had been right to kick Rahman to the kerb, how could they possibly justify kicking John Biggs to the kerb as well?

After this all happened I spoke to a very senior member of London Labour and asked them what was going on. I have to tell you that I was shocked by their answer.

My source told me in a very matter of fact way that Biggs had been passed over because he is white and that installing him instead of Rahman would have left the party open to accusations of a racist stitch up.

How can this possibly be right?

Biggs had come a respectable second in the selection contest and if Rahman had to be expelled then surely Biggs should have taken his place, no matter what the colour of his skin?

To not do so was a catastrophic decision that left the Tower Hamlets Labour party with an illegitimate candidate with a good chance of losing the election. The worst of all worlds.

And so into this colossal mire has stepped Labour's candidate for Mayor Ken Livingstone, who has never seen a fight that he didn't want a part of.

The rights and wrongs of him doing so are for others to judge but from a purely party political perspective the choice is clearly a disastrous one.

Because unlike in 2000 Ken needs the support of Labour party members to win. 

Both the bookies and the polls show that the contest against Boris Johnson will be close and in order to win Ken needs every Labour party member to be on the streets fighting for him.

By backing Rahman, Ken has lost much of that support and placed the new Labour leader in an impossible position.

All of which is par for the course in any election containing Ken Livingstone of course.

Now who thought the next year and a half would be dull?

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Evening Standard takes us for a Boris Bike ride

Now I know the Evening Standard is mildly obsessed with the "Boris Bikes" even managing to tie them into house prices going up:

But recently it's just got ridiculous.

After a series of stories about the bikes "beating the tube strike," raising money for charity, and saving the universe, a new columnist is given space for eight incomprehensible paragraphs comparing the Velib and "Boris Bike" baskets:

"You are walking through the stalls of the Place du Marché Saint Honoré in the premier arondissement in Paris. Four hundred grams of aged comté cheese. Six daffodils. Two daurades royales that you are going to bake in sea salt from somewhere like the Camargue. A pistachio macaroon. What is the essence of this experience? It is choice. It is freedom. It is participating in the most inefficient purchasing process known to man — shopping with French artisanal producers. And the thing that gives you this glorious freedom, that allows you to roam at length? It is the basket. Wads of cash, yes, but you need the basket.

Does this experience have any deeper political impact? For Guy Debord, intellectual leader of the Situationist movement that overtook France in May 1968 (and would have succeeded in revolutionising the Republic had the students not discovered that it was August and therefore time to go on a three-month holiday), there was only one way to escape the stratified, commoditised and alienating experience that he termed “the society of the spectacle”. He called it “la dérive”, the wander."

Eh? Is anybody able to translate that? Who wrote this drivel?

Leo Johnson is co-founder of sustainable finance and a partner at PWC.

...oh and Boris Johnson's brother. Funny how the Standard forgot to mention that.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Boris Johnson's tube strike ban: the facts

Boris Johnson is on the news banging on about banning strikes where less than 50% of union members vote.

As I've said before, such a "turnout threshold" would have prevented his own election on the back of just er, 19% of London voters:

Take Boris's consultation on removing the Western Extension which received the impressive backing of around 0.3% of Londoners.

Or his comrade David Davis, who withdrew his labour at public cost and received the backing of just 24% of his electorate.

Or Boris himself who was elected as Mayor with the first preferences of just 19% of his electorate.

But the simple fact is that Boris has zero powers to implement a strike ban in any case.

And the only reason he is talking about one now is to cover for his total inaction in getting the promised "no strike deal" with the unions.

So as you mull that one over on your journey home tonight here's a few other statistics to think about:

Boris Johnson's meetings since 2008:

  • Rupert Murdoch: 1
  • Rebekah Wade, The Sun: 2
  • Lord Rothermere, Daily Mail: 1
  • Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan: 1
  • Lily Allen: 1
  • Kelly Brook: 2
  • Tube Union leaders: 0

Me at Snipe London: Boris vs Ken 2

My latest column for Snipe is now available online:

Like all sequels, Ken vs. Boris 2 (and this time it’s personal) promises to be a far less blockbusting version of the original, with London’s media far less thrilled with the prospect of covering it for 19 months to come.

“I think we’ll try to ignore them for the next year at least” one well known broadcaster told me looking wearily around the room.

“The thought of it is quite depressing” another London-based hack conceded to me later that day.

You can read the rest in the latest print edition of Snipe or alternatively just sneak a peek over here.