The election of Ken Livingstone as the Mayor of London might once have looked like a bit of a joke. But it is now proving a ruinously expensive one for the capital. There is nothing funny about the way this grinning, puerile fake Left-winger has performed in post, squandering a fortune on bureaucracy and ideology, while burdening taxpayers with crippling charges.The only people who can now afford to live comfortably in the capital are the very wealthy. Yet the largesse paid into Mr Livingstone's coffers has not led to high-quality public services or a secure city: London continues to have the worst public transport, crime rates and standards of schooling in the country. When he came to power, there were 250 staff at the Greater London Authority. Today, there are 682. And Livingstone's lavish new City Hall, built at a cost of £43 million, is literally buckling under the weight of this extensive officialdom. Cracks have started to appear in the building, urinals have flooded and lifts have become increasingly unreliable.
With so many staff recruited for spurious pen-pushing jobs in areas such as policy, research and public relations, Mr Livingstone's empire can hardly be described as productive. There are no fewer than 58 officers in the media and marketing department, pouring out public-funded propaganda for the mayor. Nor do the higher echelons come cheap. Last year, Mr Livingstone redesignated his six closest personal advisers as "directors" and rewarded them with six-figure salaries. This year, the mayor's own salary has risen by almost £20,000 to £133,000, putting him on a par with Cabinet ministers.
Waste has become endemic across his regime. He spent £1.1 million of public funds hosting the so-called European Social Forum, a gathering of his mates on the left. Another £3.8 million a year goes on his official municipal organ, The Londoner. And £1.1 million went on legal fees in his fight against the Government over its proposal to involve the private sector in the management of the Tube. It was a laudable cause but one that should have been fought politically and not by lining the pockets of wealthy lawyers..
Money has also been spent on a wide variety of initiatives such as the London Turkish Film Festival, the Mayor's Sustainable Development Commission, the £2.6 million "Waste and Action Resources Programme", the London Climate Change Development Agency, membership of the Association of Nuclear Free Authorities, the Mela South Asian festival and Black History Month.
The exodus of middle- and working-class families from metropolitan stress is mounting every year. And even major companies are starting to balk at the costs of operating in Livingstone's failing kingdom; Clarkson's the shipbroker has decided to invest in Greece and Australia rather than here. This has profoundly disturbing implications for our economy, which largely depends on the wealth created by the service sector. Anything that makes London less attractive for international commerce will ultimately damage the entire nation.
Mr Livingstone plans to double the size of the congestion charging zone in inner London. Already this year, he has pushed up the congestion charge by 60 per cent, from £5 to £8, despite all the evidence that this measure is damaging the capital's economy. According to a survey by the London Chamber of Commerce, 79 per cent of businesses in the congestion charge zone say that their takings have fallen and that "an alarming 32 per cent of retailers are considering relocating their businesses as a result of the charge".
Congestion charging was meant to boost public transport in the capital, but services remain as dismal as ever. Indeed, Mr Livingstone has had the nerve to put up bus and Tube fares by up to 20 per cent this year, claiming that the extra money will be used to pay for future improvements.
Given his frightening record of spend, spend, spend, Mr Livingstone's pledges of benefits to come are utterly unconvincing. In just four years, he has forced up the budget of the Greater London Authority by £627 million, from £2,345 million in 2001/2 to £2,972 million in 2005/6. In the past year alone, the costs of running his personal office have risen by almost 50 per cent, from £9.5 million in 2004/5 to £13.9 million.