Ham and High article July 20

As Covid 19 lockdown eases, so we see the impact on City Hall’s services.

Given the current estimate of 7 per cent loss of council tax and 11 per cent business rates, City Hall faces a shortfall of £493 million over two years, unless the Government helps – but  as they announced only £500m for the whole country, the Conservatives  are short changing London yet again.

TfL already has needed a £1.6bn Covid emergency bailout (including £500m repayable loan) due to losing 90% of fare income. The Conservative Government extracted a   high price. Their ultimatum raises fares, cuts services, concessions, and increases charges- all enforced by Government appointees on TfL’s board-   demands the Mayor couldn’t  resist , if TfL wasn’t  to go bust.  Even so, TfL will have to find yet more cuts of £287million towards the overall GLA Covid  budget gap.

The Mayor is proposing to leave City Hall saving £55m in rent, moving us all to Docklands.

However, it’s the impact on our emergency services which is most worrying, with their critical public safety roles and the cuts they’ve already faced over the last decade at the hands of the Conservatives.

The Government has already forced £850m of cuts on the Met. since 2010. It’s only this year that the Mayor’s and Government’s extra funding  enabled  the Met. to grow  to 32,400 officers – up by 800 from when Sadiq Khan became Mayor. Sadiq  is  using his budget reserves to retain this year’s recruits,  but the cash crisis is undermining efforts to bring in  the originally expected  thousands more officers-  that growth is also  risked by the £110 million more the police have to save to meet the Covid gap.

As Chair of City Hall’s Fire Committee, what I find especially worrying,  are  the finances  of London Fire Brigade.  Under then Mayor Boris Johnson, the LFB  had to make £100m of cuts, including losing  10 fire stations and over 500 firefighter jobs. In 2016, Anthony Mayer, who headed City Hall under both Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson, independently reviewed LFB’s resources. He said the Brigade could not shoulder any further reductions “if it is to have sufficient resources to meet the challenges of the future, and to keep Londoners safe”- and that was before the Grenfell tragedy.

Both the Grenfell Inquiry and the Fire Services  Inspectorate report  which swiftly followed found that major changes were needed. the new Fire Commissioner has produced his  detailed Transformation Plan: key elements are  better training, especially in incident command, new procedures and equipment for high rise firefighting, and control room improvements, all supported by significant culture change.  This programme will cost £4 million.  The Brigade is already using its reserves to help bridge a projected funding gap over the next 2 years – but  now faces  more Covid cuts of £25 million. Savings of this magnitude inevitably impact on front  line firefighting.

The Government needs to take notice and fund London’s services properly- or take full responsibility for the consequences of underfunded  emergency  services.