Monday, 31 October 2011

Boris Johnson denies being "The Mayor" in security pass row

Lynton Crosby ID photo
Boris Johnson has denied requesting a City Hall security pass for his campaign manager Lynton Crosby despite an email from his aide, explicitly revealing his request.

The message from Boris's executive assistant Ann Sindall, released to this blog under Freedom of Information, states that:

"The Mayor would like Lynton Crosby to be issued with a security pass for 6 months, renewable. Do you need me to bring down the form too?"

However, the Mayor now claims that "The Mayor" referred to in this email was not himself, The Mayor, but his deceased former chief of staff Sir Simon Milton.

According to a statement by City Hall's monitoring officer:

"upon receiving a request from Sir Simon Milton, who, as the Chief of Staff and Deputy Mayor for Policy and Planning, was, quite properly, deemed to be acting and speaking on behalf of the Mayor, the Executive Assistant to the Mayor then presented, in good faith, the request for the pass as being on behalf of the Mayor... I have been assured that the Mayor himself was never involved in discussions on this matter."

When first asked how Lynton Crosby was given an access all areas City Hall pass, a spokesperson claimed that it had been "mistakenly" approved by an "admin officer" and was "swiftly" removed when senior officials were made aware of it.

However, FOI requests by this blog have revealed that the pass was actually personally requested by "the Mayor" and signed off by his chief of staff.

Faced with these facts, the Mayor is now denying that he is "The Mayor" and has instead sought to blame a man who can no longer answer these questions himself.

Simon Milton was a close and respected aide to Boris Johnson, known for his competency and professionalism.

Ann Sindall meanwhile has been Boris Johnson's personal assistant and gatekeeper since his time at The Spectator and is so valued by Boris that he has apparently nicknamed her his "be-all and Sindall".

The idea that both Sindall or Milton would have gained a staff pass for Lynton Crosby without any discussion with, or request from, their boss does not stand up to scrutiny.

See also: How Boris Johnson covered up City Hall meetings with campaign chief

-Update- The Independent today carries the following:

Monday, 24 October 2011

Will Boris Johnson break his ticket offices promise?

Asked last year about his plans to close a number of ticket offices across London, Boris Johnson's spokesperson told me that:

"This Mayor takes his promises to Londoners extremely seriously. Every station that has a ticket office will continue to have one.”

The Mayor himself went even further telling the London Assembly that:

"The first and most important point to make is that no ticket offices will be closed, alright? They're not going to be closed... 

Pushed on this point he went on to say that:

"The answer to the number of ticket office closures is: nil."

However it turns out that the real answer to the number of ticket office closures could be: all of them.

According to detailed London Underground plans seen by this blog, all ticket offices could be closed by 2016 with "up to 30" of them being being converted to "Travel Information Centres."

1500 members of staff will also be let go with all tube trains being made driverless by the 2020s.

Bob Crow, RMT General Secretary, said today:

“This document tells us everything we need to know about the operational strategy of London Underground - massive increase in fares alongside an unprecedented attack on jobs and safety. Every single ticket office would be closed, stations left unstaffed and drivers would be thrown out of their cabs without a single thought for passenger safety."

In Boris Johnson's 2008 transport manifesto he pledged to: "defend local ticket offices" and "stop the planned ticket office closures" adding that "there is little financial, strategic or common sense in these closures."

Today TfL insisted that the document had merely been prepared to "stimulate fresh thinking" and that nothing had yet been agreed by the Mayor.

However, the lack of any denials from City Hall, and the sheer detail of the plans, suggests that Boris's "extremely serious" promises to Londoners, may not have been quite so serious after all.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

How Boris Johnson covered up City Hall meetings with campaign chief

Lynton Crosby ID photo
Boris Johnson has been accused of a cover up after it emerged that he obtained an access all areas City Hall pass for his re-election campaign manager.

Freedom of Information requests by this blog reveal that the Mayor personally requested a security pass for Lynton Crosby in February that gave him unfettered access to the building.

Under GLA rules, staff passes should only be given to City Hall employees and tenants.

Local government rules also forbid the use of public resources for party political activity.

Asked about the existence of the pass earlier this year a spokesperson for the Mayor claimed that:

"An admin officer mistakenly approved a security pass, which was swiftly withdrawn when senior officials were alerted."

However my Freedom of Information requests reveal that the pass was requested by none other than Boris himself for a six month period, renewable.

And rather than being mistakingly authorised by an "admin officer," the pass was personally authorised by his then chief of staff, the late Sir Simon Milton.

And rather than being "swiftly withdrawn" Mr. Crosby retained the pass for almost five months.

London Assembly Labour group leader, Len Duvall, said today: 

"We were given completely misleading information about how and why this pass was issued. It says a lot about the mayor and his senior staff that they don't think they need to play by the same rules as everyone else and are happy to give out totally false information to cover things up when they've been found out. It's astounding they thought it was ok to give this Tory campaign organiser full access to the seat of London government."

A spokesperson for the Mayor denied a cover up, saying that:

"We stand by the original statement because the security pass was requested by an admin officer. We sought very hard to find out who had given authorisation for the pass and checked with every director and mayoral advisor but none were aware it, Following a more detailed trawl, prompted by your FOI, it was discovered that the late Sir Simon Milton has authorised the pass. The current Chief of Staff withdrew the pass when he was informed of its existence."

Boris has repeatedly refused to reveal exactly how many meetings he has had with Crosby in City Hall during what should be strictly work hours.

In response to my Freedom of Information request, the Mayor's office claimed that the log detailing exactly when and how often Crosby used his pass was deleted "automatically" after he returned it.

Friday, 7 October 2011

"Money is no object" for Boris's vanity projects say aides

Bank Note image by Beau Bo D'or
Boris Johnson is willing to spend hundreds of millions of public money in order to secure a personal legacy his senior aides have claimed.

According to the fascinating new biography Just Boris:

As he entered the fourth year of his mayoralty, City Hall staff noticed he was devoting a 'huge' proportion of his time trying to extract funds from private donors, often bankers and, yes, sometimes his friends at News International, but also little-known overseas companies for a range of increasingly bizarre even panicky 'legacy' projects. 'Subjects such as crime and transport are now much further down the agenda,' says one despairing aide... 'Money is no object when it comes to making these prestige projects happen,' observes one senior City Hall official. Despite the excitable puffs from City Hall, these are not free gifts to the metropolis as many assume. In fact, the total bill for all the Mayor's 'vanity projects' (as they are nicknamed privately, even by his staff) could run into hundreds of millions of pounds.

Boris's "increasingly bizarre" vanity projects have included a 'living bridge' (now forgotten) a Thames walkway (now in doubt) an Olympic erection (going up) and of course the cable car.

Sponsorship for what we must now call the "Emirates Air Line" was announced today. 

At £36 million the sponsorship will still leave Londoners with a bill of around £24 million. That's £24 million for a project that Boris promised would come "at no cost to taxpayers."

Now that's small change compared to the £140 million Boris has thrown at his cycle hire scheme (also promised at "no cost to taxpayers") or the as yet unknown cost of his new fleet of vanity 'Routemasters.'

But at least we can be grateful that the estimated £40 billion Boris wanted to spend on a new island airport will now definitely not be spent.

-Update- It looks like the Evening Standard got it wrong. Boris Johnson still wants his £40 billion airport.