Boris 2012 claims police numbers are up. But are they?

According to Labour campaigners, the Mayor's re-election website has inflated the number of Met offi

Boris Johnson has made a point of opposing police cuts, publicly urging David Cameron to scrap the cuts in the aftermath of the riots last summer.

Indeed, policing is set to be an area on which he will fight this year's mayoral election. A press release from his team just this week says that Johnson has "overseen a massive increase in police on London's streets since becoming Mayor".

But is it actually the case that Johnson has presided over a big boost to the Met? Labour Matters thinks otherwise. According to their analysis, Johnson's re-election website, BackBoris2012.com is over-claiming the number of police currently operating in London. Johnson's website says that there are 722 more officers than official Metropolitan Police figures show.

According to Labour Matters, BackBoris2012 over-claims for 28 of the 32 London boroughs. The biggest discrepancies are in Westminster (the site claims there are 110 more police officers than there actually are), Southwark (inflated by 80) and Lambeth (51).

In nine boroughs -- including Brent, Camden, Croydon and Tower Hamlets -- where official figures show that the number of police officers fell between 2008 and 2011, the relection website claims that numbers rose.

For long-time critics of the Mayor, this is unsurprising. London blogger Adam Bienkov tells me:

Boris was elected on a ticket of cutting knife crime and getting to grips with the Metropolitan Police. His record on both has been pretty shaky so it's not surprising if his campaign are now trying to bend the figures in his favour.

I spoke to BackBoris2012 this afternoon. A spokesman for the re-election campaign questioned the source of Labour Matters' figures, and said:

The figures [on the re-election website], showing a rise in police officers under Mayor Boris Johnson helping lead to a fall in crime across London, are official Metropolitan Police figures for the latest available full financial year.

In line with standard practice, this year to year comparison provides the most reliable figures for an organisation the size of the Met Police whose staffing levels fluctuate on a daily basis.

But whatever the comparison -- be it a logical year to year comparison or a randomly, cherry-picked comparison -- there is no disputing the fact that police numbers across London have increased under Mayor Boris Johnson and that crime is down by 10 per cent.

As standard practice we will be updating these figures at the end of this financial year, which is March 2012.

There is that assertion again: police numbers have increased under Johnson. But this fact has been disputed. Indeed, it has been disputed using these very terms -- of daily fluctuating numbers. Following the Mayor's intervention on police cuts in August, Channel 4's FactCheck blog concluded:

The Mayor has always been very careful to couch his claims over police numbers in a very specific way, saying that by the time his term of office finishes next year officer numbers would be up on the total he inherited.

. . .

It's clear that Mr Johnson has presided over budgets that have cut Met Police office numbers, and his legacy after 2012 will be one of further cuts.

It appears that claims that Johnson has hugely boosted police numbers may be disingenous.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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I was wrong about Help to Buy - but I'm still glad it's gone

As a mortgage journalist in 2013, I was deeply sceptical of the guarantee scheme. 

If you just read the headlines about Help to Buy, you could be under the impression that Theresa May has just axed an important scheme for first-time buyers. If you're on the left, you might conclude that she is on a mission to make life worse for ordinary working people. If you just enjoy blue-on-blue action, it's a swipe at the Chancellor she sacked, George Osborne.

Except it's none of those things. Help to Buy mortgage guarantee scheme is a policy that actually worked pretty well - despite the concerns of financial journalists including me - and has served its purpose.

When Osborne first announced Help to Buy in 2013, it was controversial. Mortgage journalists, such as I was at the time, were still mopping up news from the financial crisis. We were still writing up reports about the toxic loan books that had brought the banks crashing down. The idea of the Government promising to bail out mortgage borrowers seemed the height of recklessness.

But the Government always intended Help to Buy mortgage guarantee to act as a stimulus, not a long-term solution. From the beginning, it had an end date - 31 December 2016. The idea was to encourage big banks to start lending again.

So far, the record of Help to Buy has been pretty good. A first-time buyer in 2013 with a 5 per cent deposit had 56 mortgage products to choose from - not much when you consider some of those products would have been ridiculously expensive or would come with many strings attached. By 2016, according to Moneyfacts, first-time buyers had 271 products to choose from, nearly a five-fold increase

Over the same period, financial regulators have introduced much tougher mortgage affordability rules. First-time buyers can be expected to be interrogated about their income, their little luxuries and how they would cope if interest rates rose (contrary to our expectations in 2013, the Bank of England base rate has actually fallen). 

A criticism that still rings true, however, is that the mortgage guarantee scheme only helps boost demand for properties, while doing nothing about the lack of housing supply. Unlike its sister scheme, the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, there is no incentive for property companies to build more homes. According to FullFact, there were just 112,000 homes being built in England and Wales in 2010. By 2015, that had increased, but only to a mere 149,000.

This lack of supply helps to prop up house prices - one of the factors making it so difficult to get on the housing ladder in the first place. In July, the average house price in England was £233,000. This means a first-time buyer with a 5 per cent deposit of £11,650 would still need to be earning nearly £50,000 to meet most mortgage affordability criteria. In other words, the Help to Buy mortgage guarantee is targeted squarely at the middle class.

The Government plans to maintain the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, which is restricted to new builds, and the Help to Buy ISA, which rewards savers at a time of low interest rates. As for Help to Buy mortgage guarantee, the scheme may be dead, but so long as high street banks are offering 95 per cent mortgages, its effects are still with us.