London Assembly members have accused Sadiq Khan of “putting publicity before the needs of Londoners” by sparing his press team from £38 million cuts to his City Hall budget.
The Mayor of London published his Greater London Authority budget on 17 November, shaving £38 million from his £640 million spending plans.
The cash covers adult education, business and environment spending – but budgets for the Metropolitan Police, Transport for London and the London Fire Brigade are set separately.
The budget warns of job losses ahead: though the full impact is not clear, the Mayor has built up £500,000 this year to cover the cost of possible redundancies, and will add another £2 million to his fund next year.
His flagship Green New Deal – announced before the pandemic, and funded by a then-projected increase in business rates income – will be slashed from £50 million over three years to just £22 million.
But Mr Khan’s external relations budget – which includes his press office – faces cuts of just £300,000.
This will come from marketing by buying cheaper digital advertising and doing more work in-house.
The press team will not be cut because, according to the budget, it was at capacity before the pandemic and Covid-19 has increased demand.
A recent review by consultants Bloomberg Associates said the team is “a highly functioning office that operates extremely professionally and is a reference for other cities”.
But Conservative London Assembly group leader Susan Hall said the Mayor should “put Londoners’ priorities first” and protect the police and fire brigade.
“Under Khan, City Hall has become a bloated, wasteful and extravagant PR machine,” she said.
“No Londoner wants to see our city’s stretched emergency services axed by Khan to protect his press office.”
Ms Hall and other Conservative Assembly members have long criticised the Mayor for increasing public relations spending by more than a quarter (26%) during his term in office.
Mr Khan spent more than £900,000 on public relations in 2018/19, almost £200,000 more than predecessor Boris Johnson spent in his final year as Mayor.
And Liberal Democrat Caroline Pidgeon accused the Mayor of “putting publicity before the needs of Londoners” by sparing his public relations budget from cuts.
“What the Mayor is proposing for the GLA budget contains a mixture of some sensible efficiency savings combined with the raiding of reserves and cuts to projects,” she said.
“The impact of these proposals is far from clear. But even with all the uncertainties the one thing that is clear is the Mayor’s determination to protect his own publicity budget.”
A spokesperson for Mr Khan said the Mayor “makes no apology” for engaging with the media to keep Londoners informed.
“This has never been more important than during the current pandemic, during which the Mayor has worked closely with the media to advise Londoners of crucial public health information that has helped to stop the spread of the virus and protect lives,” they said.
Mr Khan has had more powers devolved to him during his term – including control of adult education spending and cash for affordable housing – and two new press officers were hired in 2017 to cover this, and to “strengthen the team’s ability to respond to a major incident” after the London Bridge terror attack and Grenfell fire, they added.