Taxpayers are being treated to a clutch of pre-election bribes from a politician who only a few months ago was claiming there was a lack of money for anything. That will almost certainly be true of Jeremy Hunt’s budget on 6 March, but it is already true of Sadiq Khan’s London Mayoralty budget for 2024/25.
Khan was in no doubt who was to blame last December when he announced that the Mayor’s precept on council tax bills in London would rise by 8.6 per cent, more than twice the rate of inflation. The government, he claimed, was starving London of money. It was ‘due to the continued lack of national investment in London’. As a result, he had ‘no viable alternative’ to jacking up council tax.
But it is funny how Khan can find money when he really needs it, such as when there is an mayoral election coming up. Suddenly there is money to provide free meals for all 270,000 state primary school children in London – a perk which has been extended for another year at a cost of £130 million.
Free school meals have been a potent political issue since footballer Marcus Rashford’s intervention during covid, but this is not money that will be handed to the poor. Children from low income households already qualify for free school meals, and so much of the benefit from the mayor’s largesse will be going to the middle classes.
Khan’s generosity with taxpayers’ cash doesn’t stop there. There is also £123 million available to freeze Underground fares for the next year. And Khan stuffed London Underground workers mouths with gold in order to avert a strike at the beginning of last month.