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Len Duvall AM: "Boris Johnson is a failure - on nine counts"

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Len Duvall has today written for LabourList previewing tonight’s LBC ‘State of London’ debate:

Last month marked the halfway point of Boris Johnson’s second term as Mayor of London, and the completion of his sixth year at the helm at City Hall. So it is fitting that LBC is tonight hosting its annual ‘State of London’ debate in which he will no doubt recount the great strides we have taken under his leadership. But before we’re treated to an hour of hot air from the Mayor, let’s quickly remind ourselves of some of the major commitments on which he has so far failed to deliver.

This nine-point collection of failed promises makes a mockery of the Mayor’s own nine-point plan, which he was elected on the back of in 2012. I won’t dwell on each of these failed pledges in full (you can find a list of them below), but it is worth considering the magnitude of some of these broken promises in further detail.

Topping this list are the latest revelations around the public cost of the Mayor’s flagship Cycle Hire scheme.  TfL projects that between 2008 and 2015 it will have contributed £183m funding to the scheme, which Johnson promised would be delivered to Londonders “at no cost to the taxpayer”. On top of this, Barclays is ending its sponsorship three years earlier than previously announced, and will only have contributed £25million of the overall £50million promised by the end of its partnership. The introduction of the Cycle Hire scheme is often seen as one of Boris’ greatest achievements in office, but the taxpayer is now footing the bill for a mismanaged scheme – exactly the situation Boris pledged would not happen.

Second, for all the blame placed on trade unions throughout the last round of tube strikes, Johnson’s role in the saga must not be forgotten. He was elected in 2008 after opposing the closure of all ticket offices, but this position gradually shifted; first to a new pledge that all stations that had at least one ticket office would retain one and then by confirming straight after his re-election in 2012 that some ticket offices would, indeed, have to close. By November 2013, he had announced that every ticket office would close by 2015, resulting in mass job cuts. But closing stations hasn’t meant cheaper fares – Boris has presided over six year of inflation-busting fare rises, instead prioritising a council taxcut that saves the average household just £4 a year.

London’s overheating housing market, and the lack of affordable housing is arguably the most significant policy challenge the Mayor has faced with so far in office. But he has failed to get a grip on London’s housing crisis. Last year, just over 21,000 homes were completed in London. This is half the target in the Mayor’s new London Plan and well below the 49,000-62,000 homes per year that his own estimate of need says are necessary. Last week’s figures from the ONS showed that house prices have risen 18.7% over the last 12 months, to reach an eye-watering £485,000 average. Despite this, Boris recently argued that London’s soaring property prices are “the right problem to have”.

Other notable mentions go to his substandard record on grappling with London’s poor air quality, which includes his claim that conditions were “perfectly fine” when the capital was engulfed in a smog cloud in April, and his continued refusal to bring forward the implementation of an Ultra-Low Emissions Zone from 2020. Likewise, despite the fact that Johnson made  commitments on rough sleeping, including criticising the use of “anti-homeless” spikes, the number of rough sleepers had in fact doubled by 2012, compared to when the Mayor first took office.

With this Mayor, a pattern emerges. Despite bold rhetoric and lofty claims, on the policy challenges of most importance to London – fares, housing, or policing – he has failed to follow through with his pledges and is failing Londoners.

Finally, I must admit that the ninth broken promise hasn’t strictly been broken yet, but rumours continue to circulate that Johnson will announce his intention to return to the Commons in 2015 before Tory conference. After repeatedly describing (and rightly so) the Mayoralty as the best job in British politics, if Johnson decides to split his time between City Hall and a seat outside of London, it will confirm what most of us already suspect – that he is willing to ignore the needs of millions of Londoners for the sake of his own ambition.

The Mayor’s half term report card – a nine-point programme of broken promises:

1.  Cycle Hire funding – “We will broker a deal with a private company to bring thousands of bikes to the capital at no cost to the taxpayer” (2008 manifesto);

2.  Ticket offices – “I will stop the planned ticket office closures” (2008 manifesto);

3.  Fares – “They [transport fares] will go down in an honest and sustainable way under me” (2012 BBC election debate);

4.  Affordable housing – “Deliver around 55,000 affordable homes by 2015 for low and middle income workers” (2012 manifesto);

5.  Police numbers – “Making our streets and homes safer with 1,000 more police on the beat” (9 point-plan for 2012 re-election);

6.  Air quality – “I will continue to champion improvements to London’s air quality, and work constructively with the Government on the issue” (2012 manifesto);

7.  London Fire Brigade – “Under this Mayor there will be absolutely no reduction in fire cover” (Mayor’s Budget Speech, January 2012);

8.  Rough sleeping – “It’s scandalous that in 21st century London people have to resort to sleeping on the streets, which is why I have pledged to end rough sleeping in the capital by 2012″ (2008 and 2012 manifestos);

9.  Best job in British politics – “Being Mayor is the best job in British politics….The most important thing I have to do is run this city… I’ve got to get on with being mayor”.

Len Duvall is the Labour Group Leader on the London Assembly.

You can watch LBC’s ‘State of London’ debate live from 7.30pm tonight here.

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