London's budget is about to be passed*. After this year's highly divisive cuts to fire and policing, what's in store for City Hall's services?
Unsurprisingly, given the at-times vicious battles over funding, 2014-2015 is more about stability. Fire services have funding protected to 2017, meaning no more shake-ups in that time. The police budget intends spending £190m more than this year on capital expenditure while it delivers the 'Metchange' programme (upgrading IT and making changes to 'estates' — i.e. selling off some police buildings and moving out of New Scotland Yard) that should ultimately deliver savings of £500m by 2016. That's an overall cost saving of 20% – no mean feat. This year it'll draw on £59m of reserves and £43m of reserves in 2015-16.
Two amendments to the budget were recently passed by the Assembly, but have been dismissed by Boris Johnson. One, backed by Labour, the Greens and Lib Dems (PDF), called for £5.1m to be spent on measures to "improve standards in the private rented sector" and drive house building to increase supply. The Mayor insists his London Rental Standard will drive up standards (something we've expressed doubt over in the past) and says the creation of a 'Homes for London' body would be a "massive organisational distraction". Homes for London, a body like Transport for London but responsible for housing, was called for by Shelter in the run-up to the 2012 election and was supported by the Mayor at the time.
Boris has agreed to allocate an extra £1m, to be matched by European funding, for apprenticeships. This is in addition to his plan of setting up a £4m fund to create 250,000 apprenticeships by 2016. He's also adding £1 to the £3.7m already allocated for parks and street trees, and the Outer London fund will get an extra £9m this year.
On Transport for London, a cut in its central government grant means £280m less in 2014-15 compared with this year, with income projected to be £250m higher. That's partly our fares and partly commercial sponsorship. In this light, past Conservative calls for sponsored tube stations could be approaching reality. It also adds another dimension to the row over closing ticket offices – they could become valuable retail space. TfL also needs to save £156m through efficiencies and cuts this year to balance its budget.
While we're talking transport, another London Assembly amendment that's been rejected by the Mayor was for cycling (PDF). Jenny Jones requested that 2% of TfL's budget be spent on cyclists, as recommended by the Assembly Transport Committee in 2012. That would be £173m, but TfL has allocated £107m for 2014-15 (despite telling Darren Johnson in March 2013, via a Mayoral answer, that the budget would be £127m). Of this extra £66m she proposed to spend £30m remodelling dangerous junctions (TfL identified 500, reduced to 100, and will re-engineer 33 by 2018), almost double the cycle superhighway budget (add £25m to the existing £31m for the year), use £6m to bring the 'mini Holland' budget up to £10m and add £5m to the £14m budget for Quietways and the Central London Grid. But Boris wasn't convinced.
As for your council tax, City Hall's share is going down by around £4 per year per household.
* The budget has to go in front of the London Assembly, but it will pass. It needs a two-thirds majority to be rejected and with nine Conservative and 16 opposition members, the numbers are very clear. And after what happened last year, when Victoria Borwick nearly missed the vote, the Tories will be in their seats come hell or high water. The latter quite possibly literal, what with all the rain.
Photo by Joe CWS from the Londonist Flickr pool.