Although London Assembly Members from the opposition parties voted against it, today the Mayor’s Budget was passed because we could not quite reach the two-thirds majority threshold required to throw it out.
But it was unprecedentedly close.
As the BBC reports:
“For the mayor’s budget to be rejected and an alternative passed instead, there needs to be a two-thirds majority in the 25-member assembly.
That was theoretically impossible given the nine Conservative members – voting for the mayor’s proposals – represent more than a third.
But, opposition members noticed one Tory assembly member, Victoria Borwick, was missing from the session.
After the mayor had given his opening speech, they declined to question him – expected to last at least an hour – and moved straight to a debate and vote on the budget.”
In the end, Victoria Borwick, Boris’s Deputy, returned just in the nick of time (from her perspective) and the Mayor’s Budget was pushed through by the block of Conservative Assembly Members.
His Budget passed; Boris will inflict large and avoidable cuts on London’s emergency services from this April for the sake of a 7 pence a week cut in City Hall’s share of the council tax.
Homes, Jobs and Growth
During today’s session, I seconded a housing motion calling for a near doubling of affordable house building between now and the end of this mayoral term in 2016, funded by using the new freedom and flexibilities the Mayor has to redistribute Business Rates.
Historically, expanding house building is the key to igniting economic recovery.
I backed this motion because Boris Johnson has the means to instigate a rapid programme of house building – he has the land (equivalent to five Hyde Parks), finances and powers.
But despite his rhetoric, Boris’s record on affordable housing is woefully weak.
In 2008 the Mayor inherited £5 billion, the largest ever capital budget for affordable house building – negotiated by his predecessor in 2007 – to deliver 50,000 new affordable homes between 2008 and 2011. Boris failed to deliver this target and only reached 40,000. As a consequence, he had to take nearly £1 billion from his next investment round to finish the job.
Since Boris’s programme began in 2011 affordable housing starts have fallen off a cliff.
In 2011/12 affordable housing starts collapsed by 74 per cent to just 4,291 and less than 1,000 were social rented.
At a time when a cost of living crisis is intensifying in London, and 380,000 households are on housing waiting lists in the capital, the Mayor is no longer building new social rented housing.
The Mayor is instead backing Affordable Rent – housing charged at up to 80 per cent of market rent.
In some cases this could result in family-sized ‘affordable’ housing in boroughs like Camden and Westminster requiring tenants to have a six-figure income (pdf). To show how mad this is, the average annual income of a social rented household in Westminster is £12,000 and across London is rarely more than £15,000.
Speaking in support of today’s motion, I reiterated that affordable housing should actually be affordable to those who need it. Through his land and financial freedoms, the Mayor can make this happen.
Our motion also demanded action on the private rented sector, where standards are poor, complaints increasing and rents rocketing.
In 23 of the 32 London boroughs, rent now accounts for over half of family income. Many are now having to choose between heating, eating and paying the rent. During the next year, thousands will probably be forced to move within London and out of London altogether as the welfare reforms begin to bite.
The Mayor is incredibly relaxed about this, having previously told me that he is “not opposed to movements either outside London or within London” as a result of welfare reform. He says “it is natural for there to be such moves”.
Well it’s not. It is the consequence of a do-nothing Mayor who is not on the side of Londoners on low incomes.
Boris’s only answer to problems in the private rented sector is to give more power to landlords and letting agents to regulate the sector, not for the tenants, but for themselves.
The Mayor must change course to correct imbalances within the sector that have left tenants feeling abandoned.
We want the Mayor to pilot a London-wide Social Letting Agency, which would allow landlords and tenants to bypass rip-off letting agency fees (thus placing downward pressure on rents) and help to secure long-term tenancies for tenants. The Chartered Surveyors describe letting agents as the property industries “wild west”. It’s about time they were tackled.
We would set up, and publicise, a mayoral ‘Know Your Rights’ website to empower tenants and we would also start the process of introducing a London Living Rent. In our view, Londoners on low and modest incomes should not pay more than a third of their income on rent.
London’s housing crisis is getting worse.
Today’s motion shows that while Boris does nothing, there is plenty he could do to increase supply, keep rents down and create jobs.