Cathy Newman checks it out
There have been tears, laughter, and the odd stray F-word. The London mayoral race has been high on emotion and more than usually bad-tempered. So the FactCheck team has been kept extremely busy.
Apart from the two candidates’ well-publicised spat over tax – a contretemps which looks set to have a lasting impact on political transparency – the main disagreements have centred on transport, crime and council tax.
Boris Johnson has been slightly more careful with his facts, choosing to deal in aspirations rather than promises. Ken Livingstone has made some extravagant claims which have landed him in hot water.
Here’s the verdict from FactCheck HQ on a very irritable election.
“We will carry out this ‘Fare Deal’ without cutting future investment or hitting services, which are funded by a separate budget.”
“No Mayor commits to a fares package from one year to the next. I will look at what we can do next year to bear down on fares.”
Essentially any mayoral candidate can raid Transport for London’s coffers to cut fares. But as we said back in January, the simple fact is that if Ken was to cut fares by 7 per cent there would be a £1.12bn hole in TfL’s income – and a pound saved on fares is a pound not spent on investment.
TfL’s operating budget and the capital budget do not run on an “entirely separate” basis as Mr Livingstone claims, they are interlinked. So yes, he could cut fares but the question is: what services or investment would lose out in the future?
As for Boris, he hasn’t “pledged” to raise fares as Mr Livingstone claims – in fact he’s said very little and that’s probably because TfL’s business plan for 2011/12 to 2014/15 does set out a “planning assumption” that fares will rise by RPI plus 2 per cent.
That said, the business plan flags up the risk that “weaker economic growth could have a significant impact on passenger demand”. Bearing this in mind, it says it will “regularly review the assumptions underpinning the business plan”.
This means that Boris is not committed to hiking fares – he reviews it every year. Indeed, this year fares rose by less than expected after Boris secured extra money from the government. But this year is election year – would George Osborne loosen his purse strings for Boris in 2013? Perhaps not – which means if Boris to “bear down on fares”, he’d face the same problems Ken would.
“There are 1,000 extra warranted officers on the London’s streets now than there were in May 2008.”
“My central pledge to tackle crime is to reverse Boris Johnson’s cut in police numbers.”
We’ve FactChecked this extensively before. Basically, police numbers were on the rise when Boris took over, largely due to the policies of the previous administration.
The new Tory mayor then oversaw a big decline in officer strength before suddenly taking steps to reverse the trend in recent months.
That recruitment drive allows Boris to make this carefully-worded claim, and he looks to be on course to meet the pledge.
There could be more officers in the Met at the end of this month than there were in May 2008, but there will be more than 1,000 fewer bobbies than there were in late 2009.
Despite the use of the word “now”, we won’t actually know if he’s kept his promise until after the election.
“Total crime has been cut by 10.8 per cent….”
“Serious crimes such as robbery, residential burglary and rape are all rising.”
We think these manifesto claims stand up statistically, although Boris has said things outside the election literature that would earn him a “fiction” rating.
For example the claim, made verbally by Boris and repeated on the Mayor’s website, that “overall, knife crime has declined in the capital” is wrong.
Annual Met Police figures show that knife crime offences rose from 12,347 in 2008/09 to 13,326 in 2010/11.
The latest rolling monthly figures available show that all crimes where a knife was used went up by 9.3 per cent over the 12 months from January 2011 to January 2012 compared with the previous year.
Crimes where a knife or sharp object was used to injure (as opposed to just threaten) also increased slightly over the same period, by 0.8 per cent.
Boris also told the London Assembly that “serious youth violence, I am pleased to say, is coming down“, but that’s also inaccurate. The Met recorded 6,872 cases in 2010/11 as opposed to 6,675 in 2008/09. That’s a 3 per cent increase. The latest rolling monthly numbers show a year-on-year increase of 4.9 per cent.
Does this mean Boris has a terrible record on crime? Not really. As our graphs show, the number of overall offences and violent crimes have fallen steadily over Boris’s term.
The decline in murders has been particularly steep, leading to some of the lowest numbers in decades in 2009/10. Boris has rightly pointed out that only 15 teenagers were murdered in the capital last year compared with 29 in 2008.
A caveat though: overall crime, violent crime and murders were already going down steadily under Ken too. Boris has just carried on the trend of improvement. And of course it may be that these trends have nothing whatever to do with the policies of either Mayor.
“Putting £445 back in your pocket by freezing the Mayoral share of council tax”
“I have also promised to freeze…the Mayor’s share of Council Tax”
Boris froze the chunk of money he takes from Londoners’ council tax for three years in a row. Now he’s 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, saving the taxpayer just over three quid. So where does this supposed saving of £445 come from?
Boris’s campaign told us this is a presumption of what Ken Livingstone would have done if had he not lost the last election. That’s based on Ken’s record of increasing his council tax share in previous years.
It’s true that Ken consistently raised the mayoral precept while in office but of course, we have no way of knowing whether he would have carried on doing so if he had won in 2008. 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 theoretical number.
In the last few weeks, Boris has said he will reduce the tax by 10 per cent over the next four years. Ken says he will simply freeze the precept at its current level.
So it’s clear that a vote for Ken will cost you money – at least as far as your council tax bill is concerned. But the actual cash saving the average taxpayer will get this year from Boris is nothing like £445. It’s £3.10 – barely enough to buy you a pint of beer in a central London pub. By 2016 the cumulative saving rises would only be around £30 for the band D taxpayer.
“After the Tory-led government’s abolition of EMA I am committed to restoring a London-wide Educational Maintenance Allowance of up to £30 per week in term by bringing together existing funds in colleges, universities, and local authorities”
Ken does not have the power to automatically bring the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) back to life. That said, it’s not impossible. He’d need to convince local colleges to pool their resources in order to make savings on the administration costs.
Yet his team admit themselves that not all would be keen to do this. What’s more, it seems that pooling resources would save just a tiny fraction of the £55m needed to plug the gap between the old scheme and the new.
Ken’s pledge has reopened the debate, and for that, he has the support “in principle” of many. Can he make it happen? At the moment his aspirations rest on a great deal of persuasion and very little certainty.
Read more: Could Ken save the EMA in London?
“Reducing Tube delays 30 per cent by 2015.”
Much like Ken’s pledge to bring back the EMA, this is an aim or aspiration. There aren’t too many facts to check here – we’ll just have to wait and see if Boris will follow through with these plans, if elected.
That said, we’ve FactChecked Boris’ record on tube delays in the past after picking up a “Sack Boris” leaflet on the tube that claimed: “Fares might be soaring, but the service is plummeting”.
We gave the leaflet a Fiction. There’s no doubt fares have gone up under Boris but the difference in passenger hours lost – an average of a million a month more under Ken than Boris – is particularly striking.
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For all our FactChecks on the London Mayoral Election, including the debate over affordable housing and UKIP’s manifesto, click here.