Boris has today pledged that he will cut council tax every year if re-elected in May. This follows three years of frozen council tax and his unprecedented announcement the other week that council tax in 2012/13 will be cut. This new pledge – an annual council tax cut throughout his second term – would be funded by £150million of efficiency savings over the next four years, including cuts in staffing levels at City Hall.
All of this is a huge contrast with how things were under Ken Livingstone. During his eight years as mayor, City Hall’s share of the council tax increased by a monstrous 152% – costing the average London household an extra £964. Meanwhile, in contrast to Boris’ ruthless efficiency savings which will fund the council tax cuts, Ken’s regime was virtually defined by its profligacy. Remember, as just one example of many, the independent Forensic Audit Panel saying that the London Development Agency had squandered tens of millions pounds of public money – it had “misspent money on a massive scale”, they said.
The choice for Londoners couldn’t be more stark. Vote either for a prudent candidate who has only ever frozen or cut council tax, and pledges to keep cutting it, or for a spendaholic candidate who ramped his share of the council tax up by 152% whilst spending over £20,000 on a single lunch for him and his socialist chum Hugo Chavez…
Four hundred and forty five pounds. Or £445, if you’re a fan of digits. That’s how much more council tax the average London household would have paid between 2008/09 and 2012/13 had Boris continued with Ken Livingstone’s average annual increase of nearly 13%. That increase, a total rise of 153% over Livingstone’s eight years as mayor, amounted to an extra £964 cost for every household in London.
By contrast, Boris has frozen City Hall’s share of the council tax for his first three years in office, and today announced that he will cut it for the first time in the history of the mayoralty. The cut itself is small, but what it represents, what it stands for and the extent to which it underlines the difference between the two candidates, is huge.
City Hall under Ken Livingstone threw cash around as if it grew on trees – always seemingly oblivious to the fact that the money is the taxpayers’, not the mayor’s. Remember the independent Forensic Audit Panel saying that the London Development Agency had squandered tens of millions pounds of public money – it had “misspent money on a massive scale”, they said. Remember Ken changing the employment severance rules just before he was kicked out of City Hall meaning his cronies were entitled to a £1.6million pay-off. Remember (pp.39-44) the hundreds of thousands of pounds spent by Ken’s cronies on foreign travel. Remember Ken spending £36,000 of taxpayers’ money on a trip to Cuba and Venezuela (you may remember Ken visited Havana more often than he visited Hillingdon during his eight years as mayor). Remember (p.10) Ken spending £20,500 of Londoners’ money on a lunch with his socialist mate Hugo Chavez (he’s the one who offered his support to Colonel Gaddafi last year). Remember Ken spending £28million on publicity and advertising. Remember Ken spending £2.8million on the The Londoner propaganda sheet.
Boris scrapped The Londoner as soon as he became mayor (even despite the obvious benefit it provided to incumbents) and has continued his campaign against excessive waste ever since. It is that prudence which has saved Londoners nearly half a grand since 2008. What’s more, on top of huge savings, Boris has also made City Hall far more transparent and accountable, publishing City Hall expenditure over £500. What underlies all of this is that Boris, like most Conservatives, respects the financial sacrifice that households make in paying taxes, and understands the duty and responsibility that politicians have in ensuring the money is properly spent. Ken, like most socialists, treated the taxpayers’ money as if it was a gift from Londoners with which he could do whatever he chose. In these times of financial difficulty, Londoners need far more of the former and far less of the latter.