Ken Livingstone has called the government’s decision to cut 8.9 per cent of funding from Hackney Council ‘outrageous’.
In an interview with the Citizen, Mr Livingstone called the cuts “a clearly partisan attack”, adding, “I suspect if I was mayor I’d be meeting with my lawyers and asking about how we can launch a legal case against the way the government is discriminating against London.”
Hackney council will see £40 million cut from their budget next year under plans announced by Communities and Local Government secretary Eric Pickles on 13 December.
As one of the poorest boroughs, Hackney receives up to 60 per cent of its funding from government grants and only seven per cent from council tax.
The government plans to take 9.9 per cent from the formula grant for local authorities as part of its cuts.
Speaking two days after the announcement, Mr Livingstone said that most of the Conservative Home Counties faced the minimum cuts of three per cent.
“Then you hit London and you’ve got all the most deprived boroughs, and it’s up at just under nine per cent. I think there’s only one Tory council that’s magically worse off than the Labour ones,” he said.
The east London Labour constituencies of Tower Hamlets and Newham also stand to lose the maximum 8.9 per cent from their council budgets, over double the national average.
Surviving Budget Cuts
Cuts of up to a projected 28 per cent to local council budgets will begin in 2011/12. Drastic budget reviews at the start of the four-year period are the result of the decision to ‘frontload’ the cuts. In order to cope, Mr Livingstone told councils to “look to the experience of Graham Stringer”.
“He became leader of Manchester in the mid-80s knowing that Thatcher was going to be there for some time to come. So he worked out strategies to find out what mattered most to local people and then preserved that core,” Mr Livingstone said.
“Manchester came through the Thatcher years a lot better than other councils who struck postures but then collapsed.”
When pressed to identify what he considers to be core council concerns, Mr Livingstone chose “the most vulnerable”, saying, “It’s kids, it’s the elderly, it’s people who are out of work. You have to do whatever you can to keep that stuff going.”
Saving Hackney’s Homes
Mr Livingstone also spoke against a “cleansing of poor people out of neighbourhoods as property prices go up”.
The most vulnerable will be hit by a new housing benefit cap of £400 per week, which could price the poorest out of their homes. An estimated 1,500 Hackney residents will be affected.
Mr Livingstone blamed the origins of spiralling rent on Macmillan’s post-war Conservative government, which lifted rent caps in the Rent Act of 1957.
He called the current London mayor’s failure to build sufficient housing “the big scandal of Johnson’s administration”.
“I’d got £5 billion out of the Labour government to spend over three years up to March 2011. That’s enough to build 50,000 homes. They’re not going to get anywhere near that target,” Mr Livingstone said.
There are around 15,500 people on the housing waiting list in Hackney. Ten per cent of households are officially overcrowded, compared with the national average of two per cent.
“There is no way of sorting out the housing problem without building more housing,” Mr Livingstone added.
Support for Students
On December 13, Mr Livingstone marched from BSix sixth form college to Hackney Town Hall with students campaigning against the scrapping of the Educational Maintenance Allowance.
When asked why he chose to march in Hackney Mr Livingstone answered, “That’s what was chosen, I don’t run my own campaign in that sort of detail.”
There are currently 3,467 recipients of the EMA in Hackney, which provides a means tested allowance to the poorest students who wish to carry on in full time education.
Mr Livingstone refuted the accusation that he was ‘piggybacking’ the students’ cause by reminding critics of his decades of experience in politics.
“You can go back to 1969 when I was a supporter of the School’s Action Union. That was the last time school students were politically active: 1969, Vietnam War. That’s the year I got involved in politics,” he said.
Crime and Regeneration
Mr Livingstone said he would stand by his 2007 pledge to install knife detectors at the entrances to schools and colleges if re-elected as mayor in 2012.
On 30 December, the death of a 17-year-old boy on a council estate in Peckham brought the number of teenage killings in London to a total of 19 in 2010, up from 15 in 2009.
While Mr Livingstone condemned the government’s ‘relentless’ use of stop and search powers to counter terrorism, he remained broadly supportive of the power to stop and search saying, “A copper with a decade of experience on the street can be very good at making the decision about who to stop and search.”
Mr Livingstone mentioned his popular 2008 initiative for free educational visits to London Zoo, where he married Emma Beal in 2009, as evidence of his support for youth activities and youth work.
“In the nine months before the election I lost we had £78 million which I was going to use to massively increase youth activities. Even though Boris won the election the money was there. But I see no evidence of that,” he said.
Chances of Winning the London Mayoralty in 2012
If re-elected in 2012, Mr Livingstone will take office just weeks before the Olympic Games open in London. He remains very supportive of London 2012, after helping to secure the Olympic bid in 2005.
“I’ve never been into sport. I went to a cricket match once in 1972 and fell asleep. But I knew no government would ever give anywhere near the £8 billion needed to regenerate the Lower Lea Valley,” Mr Livingstone said.
“We said we should put in the infrastructure to cope with 20 years of development after [the Olympics] between the site and the Thames.
“And that’s what they’re doing – the power supply, the water, the energy supply – it’s all there. As well as 40,000 homes and 50,000 jobs. That’s worth having in a recession.”