The emergency cash bail-out for London’s transport system sees the capital’s Labour Mayor hand much control to the Tories running the government, reports WALTER CRONXITE
The Tories have put political point-scoring ahead of public health, after the government last night reached an 11th-hour deal with Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, to stop Transport for London running out of money.
With London elections less than 12 months away, Neil Garratt, the Conservative candidate for Croydon and Sutton at the London Assembly, was among many members of “the Nasty Party” who piled in on Mayor Khan over the politically opportunist agreement which will send Tube and bus fares soaring in January, and which reduces the hours when Freedom Passes can be used on public transport in the capital.
Under the arrangement with the Treasury and Department of Transport, TfL is to receive £1.6billion in grants and loans. But these come with many strings attached.
Today, Mayor Khan described the deal as “a sticking plaster”.
TfL needed to be baled out by Treasury cash as the city’s transport authority has been spending £150million per week during the covid-19 lockdown, operating reduced services for key workers to get to their place of work – as they have been required to do by the government.
That’ll be the same government that since 2015 has removed a £700million annual transport subsidy from London, making it the only European capital to be denied such a subsidy by its national government.
The agreement will also see Treasury officials review various multi-million-pound TfL infrastructure projects – including some schemes planned for Croydon, such as the re-modelling of the Fiveways junction on the Purley Way or the Sutton tram extension. Few projects are likely to survive the government axe.
TfL has also had to guarantee the return of all transport services to pre-pandemic levels — higher than the 75 per cent level Mayor Khan was aiming for next week. And TfL has agreed to take government adverts telling people to “Stay Alert”.
The deal was reached just hours after Khan had warned of deep cuts to services if the government did not agree to a rescue package by the end of Thursday. Sutton councillor Garratt – known as “Father Jack” because of his potty-mouthed outbursts on social media – described this as “spreading false panic”. Which is presumably different from spreading genuine panic…
Garratt, who has a strong chance of being elected to the London Assembly in next May’s postponed elections, appears to favour the Mayor dipping into his authority’s £1.2billion reserves. That money is “enough to run the network for months”, Garratt claimed on social media yesterday.
Garratt may have his figures wrong: Tom Edwards, BBC London’s long-standing transport correspondent, has reported today that the Treasury’s £1.6billion will actually last TfL no more than 80 days.
On the day when it was confirmed that 33,000 people have already died under the Conservative government’s blundering handling of the coronavirus pandemic, Garratt accused Mayor Khan of “spreading fear, hiding his own failures”.
“He’s just playing politics,” tweeted Garratt, as he played politics.
As part of government plans to ease the lockdown, ministers this week urged people working in some sectors to return to work. But they also asked those who could work from home to do so to prevent public transport from being swamped with commuters.
TfL data showed the number of Tube journeys on Wednesday were 94 per cent down on the same day a year earlier. With no fares being collected on the buses, to avoid the risk of spreading the virus, that represents a near-complete collapse in income for TfL, which relies almost entirely on fare revenues to operate.
The Financial Times today reported a senior figure in the Tory government as saying, “We were always prepared to consider putting more money into keeping Tube and bus services running in London and to help the travelling public stay safe from coronavirus… this money comes with many strings attached.”
In his statement today, Mayor Khan said, “It is not the deal I wanted.”
A spokesman for the Mayor said, “They have forced ordinary Londoners to pay a very heavy price for doing the right thing on covid-19 by hiking TfL fares, temporarily suspending the Freedom Pass at busy times and loading TfL with debt that Londoners will pay for in the long run.”
With passenger numbers, and therefore fare revenues, not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels for years, Tony Travers, the LSE professor at its school of public policy, said today, “It is inconceivable that TfL won’t need government funding not only for 2020-2021 but also for 2021-2022.
“That means the need for a very significant government grant this year and the year after.”
Read more: Government broken promises over ‘coronavirus black hole’
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