FactCheck: Can Boris Johnson deliver on his election promises?
With less than two months to go until the London Mayoral election, Boris Johnson has released his manifesto for a second term.
Let’s take Boris “nine-point plan for a Greater London” point by point.
Boris’s finance team told us that the Greater London Authority (GLA) Group has “delivered an estimated £1.9 billion in savings and efficiencies over the period April 2009 to March 2012″, reflecting the three budgets set by Boris so far.
This is broken down into £1.1 billion of savings from Transport for London (TfL), £671m from police authorities, £42m from London Fire Brigade, £20m from the GLA itself and £29m from the London Development Agency.
We can’t double-check all those figures because most of those agencies haven’t published their accounts for 2011/12 yet – and then there will be another financial year before the effects of Boris’s last budget can be measured.
If the numbers are correct, Boris will have to achieve £1.6bn of savings over the 2012/13 financial year to hit £3.5bn. Can it be done? We’ll have to wait and see, but TfL alone predicts a saving of £1.1 million next year, so it’s not impossible.
Having frozen the Mayoral Precept – the chunk the mayor takes from Londoners’ council tax – for three years in a row, Boris has now announced a cut – but only of 1 per cent.
That means the slice of council tax that goes to city hall will fall from £309.82 to £306.72 for an average band D property. So where does this impressive sum of £445 come from?
Boris’s campaign told us this is based on a presumption of the precept that Ken Livingstone would have set, had he not lost the last election in 2008, going by his record of increasing his council tax share in previous years.
It’s true that Ken consistently raised the precept but of course, we have no way of knowing whether he would have carried on doing so if he had won the last vote. For all Boris knows, Ken might have frozen or cut his share of the tax by even more, so that figure of £445 is a purely notional amount.
And of course, Boris is lumping the presumed savings from the last three years in with the cut he’s making this year.
We’re looking back at the supposed achievements of his first term, not looking ahead to what Londoners can expect to get from Boris in the future.
The actual cash saving this year is nothing like £445. It’s £3.10, barely enough to buy you a pint of beer in a central London pub.
The Mayor will apparently be “setting out in detail in the coming weeks” how this daunting feat of job creation will be achieved.
Not much for us to go on until then, except to note that there in the first three months of Boris’s term of office total employment in London was 3.779 million, according to the Office of National Statistics.
The latest figures, for October to December last year, show employment now stands at 3.824 million, a net rise of just 45,000 jobs in the last four years.
That’s not to say that the Mayor of London is to blame for slow economic growth. We’re just pointing out the scale of the task he has set himself.
We think the casual reader might take this promise to mean that there will be 1,000 more police on the beat than there are now if Boris gets a second term.
But Boris isn’t talking about the future here, he’s simply flagging up something that’s already been done, and the details of that are fiercely disputed.
Boris has always said there will be 1,000 more Met Police officers at the end of this financial year than there were when he came to office in May 2008.
The figure then was 31,398, but it was on the rise, largely thanks to the last budget set by Ken Livingstone. Officer strength rose to a high of around 33,404 in November 2009, then the numbers began to fall.
Annual stats show a fall from an average of 33,260 officers in the financial year 2009/10 to 32,380 the following year, when Boris was in charge of the budgets.
The latest figures put officer strength at just over 31,128 as of the end of January this year, meaning police strength has fallen from its highest point by more than 2,200 officers on Boris’s watch.
He’s now relying on a dramatic last-minute recruitment drive, thanks in part to a one-off grant of £90m from central government, to get the number up to the predicted strength of 32,320.
But even if he hits that target, Boris will be just short of fulfilling the “1,000 more police” promise. And Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe said last month that recruitment would be “within probably about 100″ of 32,320 by the end of this month, so Boris could actually find himself missing his target by some margin.
More importantly, it appeared until today that the assumption everyone has been working towards is that numbers are in fact predicted to fall from 32,320 at the end of this financial year to 31,957 for the next three years.
Those were the latest budgeting predictions given to us by none other than the press team at the Mayor of London’s office at City Hall.
So even if we made that rather dubious comparison with May 2008, there wouldn’t be “1,000 more police on the beat” for most of the Mayor’s next term – there would be 559. The figures also show that there will be fewer PCSOs and police staff than in 2008, assuming recruitment targets are met.
This seems to be what Mr Hogan-Howe expects to happen too (here, p 17).
But Boris’s campaign team insists that there will be 1,000 more officers on the beat by the end of this year than there were in May 2008, and that number will be maintained over the next four years.
We’re happy to put that on the record and note that if officer numbers now drop below 32,398 at any point between the end of this month and 2015, Boris will have broken this promise.
Boris kept his 2008 manifesto promise to plant 10,000 street trees in his first term, and he’s now aiming for double that number in a second term. We think it’s not unlikely, given the relatively low levels of investment involved.
As with the jobs pledge, there’s no detailed information about where this sum will come from. Some £50m has already been allocated to the Outer London Fund, which promotes high streets around the capital. Boris’s team told us that funding for similar future schemes will come from a number of sources, but again, we’ll have to wait to get the details.
The London Olympic Park Legacy Company aims to create five new neighbourhoods and “employment hubs” around the Olympic site after the games is over, creating 11,000 homes and 8-10,000 jobs.
We’ve FactChecked the general wooliness of Olympic economic predictions before, and even assuming the analysts are right, Boris can hardly take credit for the Games, which were awarded to the capital under the last Labour government.
Boris’s team points to his co-founding of the company in 2009 as evidence that the Mayor has taken a leading role in shaping the Olympic legacy.
Not too many facts to check here – we’ll just have to wait and see if Boris will follow through with these plans, if elected.
We note that the Crossrail train line upgrade was also not the brainchild of the Mayor, although he was widely reported to have lobbied vigorously to secure continued funding for the project from David Cameron against a background of austerity in 2009.
Again, not really any facts here. Presumably the assumption is that a Conservative mayor is likely to be able to negotiate more favourable settlements for the capital than someone from the left of the Labour Party.
That’s not really FactCheckable at the moment, although Boris’s campaign team point to his successes in securing continued central government money for Crossrail and that extra £90m for policing.
We think two of Boris’s nine promises deserve a Fiction rating. The amount of money going “back in your pocket” thanks to the council tax precept freeze is nothing like £445. That’s a purely imaginary number.
The “1,000 more police” line misleads Londoners as to what has really happened to officer strength under Boris, and the latest version of this promise will be very hard to keep in any event.
There’s no detail available on where the 200,000 jobs or the £221m extra for high streets are going to come from, so it’s for Boris to persuade voters of the feasibility of those plans.
On the face of it, the savings target doesn’t seem unreasonable as long as you include all the functions like policing and transport that come under the Mayor’s control. TfL say they will be publishing an independent audit into their efficiencies programme soon.
We think Boris could be on firmer ground with trees, transport, lobbying the Treasury and the Olympics, although it’s likely to be a long time before we can really say whether the Olympic legacy has been a success.
By Patrick Worrall