Susan Hall: We will hold the Mayor’s feet to the fire

20 May

Susan Hall is the Leader of the Conservative Group on the London Assembly.

Londoners have spoken. They have given the Mayor of London a second chance to finally get a grip on soaring crime and the ever-rising cost of living in the capital. But they’ve also returned a larger, stronger Conservative team to the London Assembly to hold Sadiq Khan’s feet to the fire.

We will work with the Mayor when he’s right, fight him when he’s wrong, and scold him whenever he puts virtue-signalling PR stunts before Londoners’ priorities. But, above all, we will hold him to his promises on behalf of Londoners.

With nine Conservative London Assembly Members, we will represent everyone across our great city and fight for a safer, more affordable London. Our work will start immediately – London faces immense challenges, and Londoners need their Mayor to deliver. That means no honeymoon period for Khan and no time for his excuses.

On the Assembly, the reduced Labour Group has already abdicated their responsibility to hold the Mayor to account in his second term. Instead of agreeing to a fair deal on the Assembly’s committees, ensuring all Londoners’ views are represented, they’ve refused to chair a single one. But have no fear – Labour’s absence has cleared the way for the Conservatives to chair six committees, ensuring the Mayor is robustly scrutinised every step of the way.

Khan has been gifted the best job in politics, by Londoners, for the second time. It’s the most powerful directly-elected position in the country, with an enormous £19.4 billion budget, and substantial policing, housing, and transport powers. He squandered his first term. He can’t waste his second.

For starters, the Mayor must fast-track City Hall’s job creation programmes. It’s scandalous that the Mayor’s biggest regeneration scheme, the £70 million Good Growth Fund, has only delivered 1.8 per cent of the 6,000 jobs he promised. If Khan is going to help our city recover and fulfil his ‘jobs, jobs, jobs’ election promise, he needs to review these schemes to ensure they deliver sooner, not later.

The Mayor must also rethink his decision to reject our plan to create a £50 million recovery fund using the Greater London Authority’s idle Business Rate Reserve. This substantial fund could help businesses bounce back, create jobs, and revive London’s cultural and nightlife powerhouse. If the Mayor is serious about creating jobs he would adopt our proposal – it would be fifty times the size of the Mayor’s existing Back to Business Fund.

To get Transport for London’s finances back on track, Khan must be brave and use his second term to take on his trade union allies and modernise TfL. Londoners can’t afford to pick up Khan’s bill through council tax hikes and extortionate road charges. Nor can Outer London afford Khan’s ludicrous boundary charge idea, which would hurt family and friends, struggling businesses, and our public services. So instead, Khan must finally reform TfL’s rewards, perks, and pensions, which waste hundreds of millions of pounds every year. The savings would help wean TfL off taxpayer bailouts and pay for transport upgrades – like fixing Hammersmith Bridge and cleaning up London’s bus fleet.

The Mayor must also start treating housebuilding like a sprint, not a marathon. The government has granted City Hall a third of England’s affordable housing budget. But, Khan’s current plan will only start building 35,000 homes by 2026 with that new cash, shrinking City Hall housebuilding by two-thirds. Instead, he could use this money to build nearly 100,000 new homes – in line with London’s existing Affordable Homes Programme. Khan must rethink his ridiculously unambitious plan.

Finally, and most importantly to Londoners, the Mayor must get a grip on violent and neighbourhood crime. As lockdown eases, these crimes are set to spiral unless Khan acts now. In his second term, he must unequivocally back the police to use stop and search, put police officers before press officers, and ensure the Met has the resources needed to investigate crimes, not just record them.

We genuinely wish Khan every success as Mayor. We’re in politics to make London an even greater place to live – and the Mayor has the power to do it. We’ll do our job by holding him to account. Now, he must do his job.

Susan Hall: The Mayor of London has great power. Yet Khan acts like a commentator.

22 Apr

Susan Hall is the Leader of the Conservative Group on the London Assembly.

The Mayor of London has the best job in politics. It’s the most powerful directly-elected position in the country, with an enormous £19.4 billion budget and substantial policing, housing, and transport powers. Whoever holds this position has an unrivalled opportunity to deliver for the greatest city in the world – London.

As Mayor, Sadiq Khan has failed to grasp that opportunity. That much is clear, after a new YouGov poll found that 56 and 49 per cent of Londoners respectively think the Mayor has not done enough to make London affordable or safe.

Londoners’ verdict is hardly surprising. Our new report, Cost of Khan, reveals the extent of the Mayor’s failures in the past five years; he failed to stop crime spiralling out of control or build the homes he promised, and he’s hiked up every charge and tax in London to pay for his reckless spending.

On Khan’s watch, homicide rocketed to an 11-year high, knife crime increased by nearly 40 per cent to reach record levels, and neighbourhood crimes like robbery and burglary shot up by 74 and nearly 39 per cent, respectively.

When London needed leadership to tackle crime, Sadiq Khan was touring TV studios, passing blame. For the Mayor and his team, rising crime was a PR problem to be managed, rather than an emergency that they were responsible for solving.

Despite the Mayor’s excuses, he has the power and resources to keep London safe; Sadiq Khan is London’s Police and Crime Commissioner, and his mayoral budget has grown by over £3 billion in five years.

Instead of recruiting extra police officers, Sadiq Khan has repeatedly chosen to invest millions in fripperies. In five years, Sadiq Khan nearly doubled the size of City Hall’s bureaucracy, increased his press office budget by 33 per cent, and splurged millions of pounds on cultural projects, like bicycle ballets, drag acts, and beach parties. Sadiq Khan’s spending decisions show that he does not have Londoners’ priorities at heart.

The Mayor’s financial incompetence does not stop at City Hall; Sadiq Khan’s decisions and failings also broke the Transport for London (TfL) bank. Crossrail is nearly four years late and £3.9 billion over budget. His fares freeze lost at least £640 million in revenue for TfL. And he’s failed to reform TfL’s gold-plated pensions, bloated bonuses, and expensive perks.

Years of mismanagement under Khan left TfL crippled before the coronavirus pandemic began. Faced with a catastrophic collapse in fares revenue, the terrible state of TfL’s finances was laid bare. That’s why Sadiq Khan needed two bailouts worth £3.3 billion last year and has asked for at least one more in 2021.

Worse still, the Mayor is determined to push the cost of his financial incompetence onto Londoners. He’s hiked the Congestion Charge, increased Londoners’ council tax by nearly 32 per cent, is planning to extend the Ultra Low Emission Zone charge, and is considering a Greater London Boundary Charge.

The Mayor’s failure to build the affordable homes London desperately needs is also pricing working Londoners out of the city. He has no excuse for sluggish housebuilding; the Government granted him an unprecedented £4.82 billion housing investment to start building 116,000 homes. But, after four years, he’s not even started half of them.

For five years, Sadiq Khan has pleaded poverty, passed blame, and avoided responsibility, instead of delivering for London. He’s acted like a commentator on our nation’s politics, rather than a politician focused on delivering positive changes for the world’s greatest city. As his term ends, the Mayor’s record reveals the damning truth: Sadiq Khan is the worst Mayor of London we have ever seen.


Susan Hall: The 9.5 per cent rise in the Mayor of London’s Council Tax precept is unjustified

16 Mar

Susan Hall is the Leader of the Conservative Group on the London Assembly.

Sadiq Khan’s tax-hike budget is a slap in the face of every struggling Londoner. The capital’s streets are empty, businesses are closed, and people are desperately worried about their livelihoods. It’s the worst possible time for the Mayor to increase his council tax share by 9.5 per cent. To add insult to injury, he’s misleading Londoners by claiming he has no choice. He does. We gave him the choice and he didn’t take it.

The Conservative Group on the London Assembly presented the Mayor with a gift – a fully costed alternative budget that would freeze council tax and deliver on Londoners’ priorities. Instead of a tax-hike, our plan would make nearly £100 million in savings across the Greater London Authority by cutting waste.

We would make the savings by scrapping the Mayor’s statue-toppling commission, cutting his PR budgets, and reducing the GLA’s promotional spending. In total, this would save a whopping £8 million. We would save nearly £90 million more by reforming Transport for London’s bonuses, perks, and pensions, which have spiralled out of control under Khan.

We proposed using this money to fully fund London’s concessionary travel, including free travel for under 18s and discounted fares for over-60s, invest £45 million in policing, and freeze the Mayor’s share of council tax.

Our plan would also create a new £50 million London Recovery Fund to help businesses bounce back from the pandemic. This would be fifty times the size of the Mayor’s pathetically small ‘Back to Business’ fund and paid for using the GLA’s sizeable Business Rate Reserves.

This Conservative plan is the budget Londoners deserve. It delivers on their priorities, by keeping London safe and moving, as well as investing in our city’s recovery. Shamefully, but unsurprisingly, the Mayor rejected it. Why? It would defund his self-promotional budgets and force him to take on his trade union allies.

Without a doubt, Khan’s number one priority as Mayor is self-promotion. Instead of focusing on delivering as Mayor, Khan thinks he’s auditioning for higher office. That’s why he’s increased his press office spending by 33 per cent and jumped on every passing bandwagon.

Khan’s latest virtue-signalling project is his expensive statue-toppling commission. Packed with unelected activists, Khan thought the cash was worth it to make Toyin Agbetu – who’s now resigned due to past anti-Semitic comments – and other individuals, judge and jury of British history. It’s an outrageous waste of taxpayers’ cash, particularly at a time of economic crisis, but Khan thinks it’s good press.

Coronavirus has unveiled the deep-rooted problems in Transport for London, which Khan has repeatedly ignored. TfL’s own Independent Review said the body’s gold-plated pension scheme was “out-dated and must be reformed”. The review told the Mayor that modernisation would save up to £100 million. But he ignored the recommendation and instead chose to increase council tax.

He then preceded to ignore TfL’s Financial Sustainability Plan’s advice, which recommended that any review of its reward scheme should include pensions as well as its bonuses and perks. TfL’s bonus scheme awarded more than £15 million in 2019, and its nominee passes, which offer free travel to staff’s flatmates and even lodgers, cost TfL more than £40 million in a normal year in lost revenue.

The Mayor’s failure to reform TfL is deliberate. Sadiq Khan is worried about taking on the trade unions. He promised Londoners there would be “zero days of strikes” if he was elected, and there have already been more than thirty separate strikes. That’s why Khan is prepared to turn a blind eye to TfL’s woes and ask taxpayers to fork out more cash – it keeps the unions on his side.

In the Mayor’s budget, Londoners can see the cost of Khan. Far from having no choice but to increase council tax, he has an array of options to save money at City Hall and Transport for London. Unfortunately for Londoners, Khan hasn’t got their priorities at heart. Londoners deserve a Mayor who will put them first.

Susan Hall: The Mayor is punishing London’s commuters for Transport for London’s wasteful spending

14 Oct

Susan Hall is the Leader of the Conservative Group on the London Assembly.

Transport for London is bust. Mayor Khan can’t afford to pay City Hall’s rent. And to balance the books, Khan is planning to cut the police. The level of financial incompetence in Sadiq Khan’s City Hall is astounding. In the London Assembly, we’ve been working on getting to the bottom of Khan’s botched books to expose the waste, find savings, and get London’s devolved government back on track. Here’s the latest from the front line in the GLA Conservatives’ battle to protect taxpayers’ cash from Khan’s shredder.

As Transport for London (TfL) is continuing to waste millions of pounds, Khan looks for another taxpayer-funded bailout. It won’t come as a surprise to anyone that TfL is a bloated bureaucratic mess, but the scale of waste on Khan’s watch is eye-watering. The latest waste the London Assembly Conservatives have exposed revealed that the bill for TfL staff working on trade union activities has nearly doubled under Khan. In Boris Johnson’s final year as Mayor, the bill was only £4.4 million, but it has soared to £8.7 million in 2019/20. In comparison, the entire civil service spends just £10 million on so-called facility time, that’s £1 million more than TfL, despite the fact that it has over 400,000 staff to TfL’s 27,000.

In the Assembly, the GLA Conservatives have been pushing for the Mayor to scrap one of the appalling examples of waste at TfL, nominee passes. This TfL staff perk allows someone they live with, from a family member or spouse to flatmate or lodger, to travel for free in London. This wasteful perk has reached record levels under Khan, and we, conservatively, estimate that it costs £44 million in lost fares revenue. However, no one at TfL or the Mayor’s office, which both argue the perk costs nothing as the trains would be running regardless (ridiculous, I know), don’t appear to know the true cost. It could be losing TfL far more than our conservative estimate and punching a sizeable hole in TfL’s finances. That’s why I put forward a motion in the Assembly calling on the Mayor to scrap TfL’s nominee passes. Unsurprisingly, Labour voted against it, to protect Khan’s wasteful perk.

We’ve also uncovered more information which again shows that the Mayor’s plan to move City Hall to east London simply doesn’t add up. In the Assembly’s Oversight Committee, Khan made a rare appearance, in a foul mood, to “answer” questions about his plan to abandon the custom-made City Hall building for the far smaller Crystal building in the Royal Docks. The Mayor claims that the move will save up to £55 million, and while I welcome his sudden desire to save taxpayers’ money, his figures just don’t add up.

The latest revelation has been that costs of moving have spiralled upwards by 70 per cent to £13.6 million, mainly due to security concerns about the new building. Bizarrely, after this came to light in the meeting, Khan then increased his saving projection to £59 million. Later, his aides admitted that Khan’s latest claim didn’t take account of the new lower rent deal, City Hall’s landlord is offering. This confused matters even more as not only does Khan’s new claim not consider the likely cost of staying at City Hall; it seemingly ignores the spiralling costs of the move. Previously, the GLA Conservatives had estimated that the likely savings of the move would be nearly 50 per cent less than Khan claimed. Mainly because the Mayor failed to consider the forgone rental and commercial income from the move. Taking into account the latest developments, and supposing the landlord was willing to reduce the rent by a third, the savings could be as low as £10.4 million over five years.

London’s devolved government has been hit by the perfect storm. After years of financial mismanagement and waste, Khan’s bloated TfL and City Hall has been hit by an unprecedented loss of income due to the coronavirus crisis. Far from learning his lesson, Khan is sacrificing Londoners’ priorities to preserve his wasteful spending. This is crystal clear in the Mayor’s decision to cut London’s policing and fire budgets by £135 million to balance his chaotic books. That’s why it’s more important than ever that Khan is held to account and his damaging choices exposed. And that’s what I will be doing in my new column for this website. As we head towards the rescheduled London election next year, I hope to give Conservative Home readers a greater insight into the work of London Assembly Members and why, alongside Shaun Bailey, we need a strong Conservative team to join him in the Assembly.