The Mayor of London’s flagship unit to cut violent crime has underspent its budget for the second time.

City Hall said coronavirus lockdown put the brakes on Violence Reduction Unit programmes, but London Assembly members warned it has underspent in the past.

A cornerstone of Sadiq Khan’s public health approach to violent crime, the unit will spend £3.8 million less than planned this financial year – a quarter of its £14.7 million budget.

London Assembly Conservative group leader Susan Hall said she is “concerned” that the high profile scheme is not using its allotted money.

“If it is the panacea to all our problems I’m just very worried that for the second year there are underspends,” she told the Assembly budget scrutiny committee yesterday (Tuesday September 22).

Ms Hall said she “applauds” efforts to use taxpayer money wisely, but argued that the Violence Reduction Unit, established in September 2018, has had ample time to consider which projects it funds.

“It’s not been there for five minutes, it’s been there for a lot longer,” she said. “It’s supposed to be the answer to so many of the problems out there.”

Ms Hall questioned whether the unit is “the best vehicle to deliver the services we need” to cut violent crime.

“I don’t approve of something being held up as a flagship when it’s just been underspending,” she explained.

And Green Assembly member Sian Berry said it “doesn’t look good” if City Hall budgets aren’t used up while London politicians lobby the Government for more money.

Ms Berry, who is also a Camden councillor, said the Mayor could use some of this year’s Violence Reduction Unit cash to bolster borough and charity spending on youth work.

“We know that councils are struggling at the moment in respect of their budgets in general because of the amount of expenses they’ve had around coronavirus,” she said.

“There are risks to council youth services, which are pursuing the same goals.”

But Jo Moore, finance chief for the Mayor’s Office of Policing and Crime, said violence reduction programmes must show evidence that they are good value for money before City Hall will invest.

“Because of the complexity around violence reduction it’s really important we’re spending money in the right way, not just rushing to get it out the door,” she explained.

Mr Khan’s Deputy Mayor for Policing, Sophie Linden, said the unit is “doing very important work” preventing serious crime.

The Mayor has also invested in police, boosting officer numbers from a low of less than 30,000 to more than 32,600 today, and pledged £45 million for youth services through his Young Londoners’ Fund, she said.

More money is now being signed off, to boost pupil referral units and for work in crime hotspots, and leftover cash will be moved over to next year, she said.

“I think given that there has been Covid in the first few months of this financial year […] there has been a fantastic effort to ensure that the money has been spent,” Ms Linden added.

“We are not looking to make savings form the Violence Reduction Unit in this financial year, and we’ll look to protect it in the next financial year as well.”