City Hall budget ‘like back of cigarette packet’ says Tory politician

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A Conservative politician has attacked the “lack of transparency” in next year’s City Hall budget, demanding more detail on upcoming cuts.

Sadiq Khan published his draft City Hall spending plan last week, as London government reels from a sharp drop in business rates and council tax income caused by coronavirus.

The Mayor slashed £38 million from his budget for the coming financial year, putting jobs at risk and halving cash for his flagship climate change programme.

Some £12 million of savings have been squeezed from back office spending, through cuts to human resources and technology – but the remaining £27 million will be from services for Londoners.

Mr Khan has not said where these cuts will fall – and is waiting until council tax and business rates income is confirmed to finalise his plans.

But speaking at a London Assembly budget committee meeting, Conservative Assembly Member Tony Devenish said the Mayor should provide more details sooner.

“I am concerned by the lack of transparency in this process,” he said.

“I’m not sure we really have very much to discuss. It’s more like the back of a cigarette packet than a budget from my point of view.”

But the Mayor’s chief of staff, David Bellamy, defended the budget to the London Assembly panel.

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Mr Khan was forced to make urgent cuts to this year’s spending when the pandemic hit, and was only able to begin working on next year’s budget in August, he said.

His plans rely on spending announcements from Government and on the amount of council tax and business rates received by London councils, which will be finalised in the New Year, he added.

“There’s an awful lot going on: it’s not that this budget is the only thing on our agenda at the moment,” Mr Bellamy said.

“This is a draft budget which sets out our plans in each area and further details will come forward in the next few months through the process.

“I think that’s appropriate both given the pressures of cover and the uncertainties about income.”

Greater London Authority chief officer Mary Harpley said Mr Devenish was “underestimating somewhat the work that has gone in to get this document to this point”.

“It is a completely different way of presenting the budget than the GLA has done before, reorienting it completely around recovery and recovery outcomes,” she said.

The Mayor is due to publish his spending plans for the Metropolitan Police, Transport for London and the London Fire Brigade by the end of the year.

Budgets are due to be finalised in early March, according to City Hall plans.

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