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Chair, can I say that this is a really important question. Had we taken the advice of the Conservatives, the ULEZ would not have been introduced in April 2019 and the huge progress we have made would not have been seen. We have seen, since the ULEZ has been introduced, a reduction of the nitrogen dioxide and NOx by a third. We have seen a reduction of particulate matters by 13%. We have also seen huge progress made cleaning the air across our city.
It is worth reminding ourselves why it is so important. The bad‑quality air in London is responsible for thousands of premature deaths. It is responsible for children having stunted lungs, permanently stunted, but also for adults suffering from a whole host of health issues, from asthma to dementia to cancer. Because of our bold policies, action has been taken to address that. We have also taken policies to clean up the taxi fleet and the bus fleet as well. Had we accepted the Conservative plans for the budget we would not have been able to do so. We have made huge progress in relation to that, but the big gamechanger is also going to come when we roll these out to the North Circular and South Circular from next year and this year for other vehicles like coaches and buses in the rest of London, which will see big progress being made.
It is really important that Londoners appreciate that now, when you look at the Royal Society of Public Health, when they talk about the biggest achievements of the 21st century, the ULEZ is ranked seventh. That demonstrates the difference a Labour Mayor can make and yet another reason why you must not vote for the Conservatives on 7 May this year.
As you know, Mr Mayor, I pressed you to bring it even further forward to January 2019 so I was a very strong supporter of the initiative to move it forward, but obviously, as you have said, we sat in this very Chamber and listened to the Conservative Group pressing very hard for it to only be implemented in October 2020, as was originally announced in 2015. I just want to be absolutely crystal clear there is no chance at all that you are going to listen to those people who say that expanding the ULEZ should not occur. You are definitely going ahead with expanding ULEZ in October 2020?
The problem is that I was handed a blank sheet of paper. There were no details, no planned workings. No calculations were made, no work done. We started from scratch, basically. That is why it is quite remarkable that we have gone from a standing still position to what we achieved in April 2019 and the progress we have made.
I have asked the question, “Can we go even faster?” and the answer is no. It is a very complex scheme. It is the world’s first. There are multiple delivery strands, including changes to back‑end systems and new infrastructure, working with the boroughs. There is a consultation we have undertaken. Also, we have to be reasonable, especially to low‑income families, to charities, small businesses and those who have to change their fleet, for them to be ready as well. We simply cannot do it any faster. You will see over the next 100 days some people claiming it can be faster. It cannot be. The only way it can be done for 2020 for bigger vehicles and for other vehicles in October 2021 is by voting Labour on 7 May this year. It is a two‑horse race between me and the Conservatives who are against us. That is why it is important to vote Labour on 7 May.
Mr Mayor, I am sure you are regularly pressed, as I am, by groups who would like it to be expanded more quickly, and I understand the points that you are making about the need to implement in a thorough way.
As part of the implementation of the ULEZ you also introduced the ULEZ Support Scheme, which set aside £23 million to be accessed by mainly small businesses but also some charities. Now, there has been much spoken. In fact, Assembly Member [David] Kurten at the very beginning of today was talking about the devastating impact on businesses. I am slightly disappointed that so far, so little of that £23 million has been accessed by those small businesses and charities. What more can we do to make sure that they are accessing it when they need it?
I have not a clue, Chair, but what I do know is that one of the principles of this Chamber is we do not use it for blatant electioneering. If you are not going to challenge the Mayor on his encouragement of people to vote for a particular party then you can be absolutely assured that we will spend our time on the Assembly between now and May saying, “Vote Conservative”.
On a point of order, Chair, I did not want it to be noted, I wanted it to be responded to, and that means either challenge the Mayor for what he has said now or write to me with what your decision is going to be. I do not just want it noted.
In which case that is not acceptable, Chair. In which case this Group can feel it is perfectly free to go electioneering through the processes of this Assembly. On every Committee meeting, on every scrutiny meeting, we can tell everyone to vote Conservative without any degree of challenge whatsoever from yourselves. Thank you for your support in telling us to go and tell people to vote Conservative.
There may be other people in the Assembly who have not declared themselves yet, who may be affected by this ‘vote Labour/vote Conservative’ conversation. I think we should draw that to a close.
We still have a minute, Chair. We still have one minute and 11 seconds to answer the Labour question, and the answer is that we have shown over the last few years that we are an administration that is pro‑business, which means we engage with businesses and listen to their concerns. Assembly Member Cooper is somebody who has been a passionate advocate for fixing the air in London and also speaks to businesses, and one of the things about businesses is they often suffer the consequences of the poor‑quality air, their drivers suffering the consequences, but also their families who live in London as well.
One of the things that we have done is to engage with not just the Federation of Small Businesses but the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Confederation of Business Industry (CBI) and London First to understand their concerns. That is one of the reasons why we are now looking into how the scrappage scheme could help not just the businesses but also low‑income families as well. We will be announcing some changes in due course because we understand that it is important that this support reaches those who need it the most.
What I would do is ask colleagues in this Chamber to please lobby the Government ‑ it is a Conservative Government ‑ who have failed to give any support to our ULEZ, have refused to invest in a national diesel scrappage scheme and who are in breach of legislation to deal with the poor quality air, another reason, Chair, to vote for Sadiq Khan, the Labour candidate, on 7 May.