At Mayor’s Question Time yesterday, there was a marked improvement in the quality of the questions put to the Mayor, so this was a positive and contructive session. Boris began by congratulating Eddie Lister for his well earned knighthood in the Queens Honours List and he also congratulated Lib Dem Mike Tuffrey for running against him for Mayor. Mike therefore joins Brian Paddick and Lembit Opik as the Lib Dem candidates. Jenny Jones (Green Party), Sir Olly Cromwell (Independent), and of course Labour’s Ken Livingstone are the remaining names on the challengers list to beat Boris.
Some of the questions asked are listed below, and the rest can be found on the webcam on the Mayor’s website.
AIR POLLUTION; Darren Johnson wanted to know if the Mayor had any more measures to improve air quality. Boris listed a raft of measures that he wants the government to take, including an increase in the penalty for idling, reducing airport emissions and funding further energy efficiency schemes, including boiler scrappage. Darren asked what measures Boris himself planned to take, specifically the low emissions zone. Boris said although there were difficulties foreseen with this scheme, a report was being prepared and Darren should stay optimistic.
THE ASPECTS OF LONDON SURVEY THAT MOST DISAPPOINTED THE MAYOR. Boris said the aspect that most disappointed him was the reaction of the Labour Assembly Members in that they did not acknowledge the successes of his Mayoralty. He then launched into a detailed description of these successes, and the Chairman Jennette Arnold fairly insisted that he be allowed to do so. (UPROAR). Val Shawcross was not pleased with the Mayor’s reply, so she answered it for him. Val said Boris should be disappointed because fares were so high. It seemed unfair to the Mayor that Val answered her own question, but there you go.
There was so much heckling and badinage that the Chairman said it had to stop. Jennette Arnold has been a firm but fair Chairman since she took over.
Val was not happy about high fares, and she said there has been a 12% shift in people complaining about the cost of travel. Her concern is that lower income Londoners will not be able to afford the fares. The Mayor said they were doing their best to keep fares down, and they are lower than in comparable cities in this country. The investment in London’s transport infrastructure has necessitated the fare increases. Boris said 46% of Londoners say that travel in London is one of the top three best things about the capital. Val said the Mayor supported the London living wage, so he should support low fares. But Boris insisted investment was necessary because we are in a neo-Victorian age of investment in public transport that includes the tube and Crossrail.
Once Boris gets into his stride, he is like a high speed express train that will not be deterred and it is possible to feel some sympathy for Assembly Members in their attempts to get a word in edgewise. The Tory Assembly Members are stalwart in their support of the Mayor, particularly Gareth Bacon and Richard Tracey. However, Boris has a lot to be proud of in the scope of his achievements and that is why he is right to be disappointed there is not more support from the Red corner. As he said, how would Labour fund transport improvements? This session however, was conducted in a good humoured spirit, and it is so much more enjoyable for the audience when that happens.
CHILD TRAFFICKING: Boris reassured Dee Doocey that he intended to do everything in his power to prevent this appalling crime. Mrs Doocey wants specialist and child protection, the Paladin team at Kings Cross, not just Heathrow, and Boris promised he would try to instigate this.
ROUGH SLEEPING. This question came from Jenny Jones and Boris said this was a complex social problem. Boris said that entrenched rough sleepers had been reduced by three quarters. It is difficult to help because having to sleep rough is down to a combination of circumstances. One poor man had slept rough for 42 years and had been helped. Half of rough sleepers do not spend more than a single night. Jenny Jones said she knew the Mayor cared about this, but the problem was increasing and funding was being cut. Boris said something would be done and he would investigate.
HOUSING BENEFIT: Boris told John Biggs that they had lobbied the government regarding housing benefit. He did not want to see the vulnerable forced to leave their London homes, more time was needed. Boris believes that the lobbying from City Hall has been successful because they have earned more time and the LHA will be paid directly to landlords.
THE CABLE CAR. Caroline Pigeon was concerned that the cost of the cable car, some £57M, will come from the public purse. Boris said there has been a lot of interest in sponsoring the cable car and he was optimistic that a good part or all of the total cost would be funded by sponsors. This was a bit more helpful that his reply last time as to when the cable car would appear, (When it’s good and ready and in the fullness of time, HAHA) Understandably, Caroline is still anxious about this, but the Mayor has a great record when it come to making wealthy businessmen cough up in the interests of London. John Biggs has continued to show enthusiasm for this scheme, well done Biggsie! Our Mayor’s teasing of Caroline and her smart reply raised the biggest laugh of the session.
All in all, this was an excellent session with thoughtful and interesting questions, too lengthy to report in full here, but it can be heard in its entirety on the webcam.