London Mayor Boris Johnson rejects budget change
London Mayor Boris Johnson has rejected calls to reverse his proposed council tax cut which opposition parties says will keep 12 fire stations open.
A coalition of opposition groups at the London Assembly said a reduction in his council tax precept of £3.64 next year for the average household - amounting to 1p a day - is the "wrong priority".
They had been proposing a freeze in the council tax which would provide an extra £9.4m. The closure plans aim to save £45m.
But the mayor said it was an irresponsible and politically-motivated approach and his proposals were based on the professional advice of senior fire officials.
In an unexpected development, the mayor's appearance before the London Assembly was abruptly cut short earlier, as opposition parties seized a procedural opportunity to try to defeat his budget aims.
For the mayor's budget to be rejected and an alternative passed instead, there needs to be a two-thirds majority in the 25-member assembly.
That was theoretically impossible given the nine Conservative members - voting for the mayor's proposals - represent more than a third.
But, opposition members noticed one Tory assembly member, Victoria Borwick, was missing from the session.
After the mayor had given his opening speech, they declined to question him - expected to last at least an hour - and moved straight to a debate and vote on the budget.
As the mayor packed up his papers and exchanged insults with members - calling them "great, supine, protoplasmic invertebrate jellies' as he was ejected - Mrs Borwick appeared, thereby scuppering the opposition's manoeuvre.
The mayor had said his budget would help lift the capital out of economic trouble, as he sought to create 200,000 jobs, build 55,000 homes and oversee work on Crossrail, the Northern Line extension and more river crossings.
Faced by an increase in the capital's population of between 400,000 and 600,000 since 2008, he said responsible investment was vital, a contrast to the previous Labour government.
But his City Hall opponents claim he will damage the capital's emergency services, closing 12 fire stations and 65 police stations.
Trivial tax cuts
Labour member Val Shawcross said he "should be fighting tooth and nail" to protect those services.
Stephen Knight, for the Liberal Democrats, said the mayor was giving up £80m for services to fund "trivial tax cuts".
"There is a clear political choice, and it is clear political dishonesty to claim otherwise," he said.
But the Conservatives attacked the opposition's alternative proposals as a gesture that would not "plug the gap" of savings needed.
Tory London Assembly member Gareth Bacon said: " It is nothing more than an ostrich commitment.
"What you seek to do is bury your head in the sand and act as if the world around you doesn't exist."
And Darren Johnson, for the Green Party, said: "If we do need a small increase in council tax in future to maintain our safety, then let's do that."