An unelected adviser, an old mate of Boris Johnson, is imposing a range of conditions on TfL and causing anger among Tory MPs, as our transport correspondent, JEREMY CLACKSON, reports
The anti-London government run by Dominic Cummings is looking to take away free travel for the capital’s seniors as well as young Londoners, as they pile on extra conditions on any cash bail-out for Transport for London that would keep the buses, Tubes and trams running.
The Conservatives’ useless candidate for London Mayor, Shaun Bailey, has resorted to running a social media petition opposing the £15 hike in the Congestion Charge, without being honest enough to state that it was his party colleague, Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, who imposed it on Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan as part of the first financial settlement over TfL’s covid-hit finances.
False claims made by Boris Johnson in the House of Commons yesterday, when he said Khan had bankrupted TfL, saw the Mayor respond by calling the Prime Minister a liar. Johnson, of course, was Khan’s predecessor as Mayor of London, and when he left office in 2016 after eight years of “spaffing” away tax-payers’ money, TfL’s deficit had been hiked up to £1.5billion. After three years of more careful management of the transport authority’s finances, by the start of this year, it was down to £200million.
And then came covid-19, cutting off virtually all of TfL’s fares income for months.
Now the special adviser who has been imposed on the TfL board, Andrew Gilligan (an old friend of Johnson’s), is reported to be pushing for the axing of the Freedom Pass – a policy which Bailey’s campaign team openly discussed and which their candidate then spent much time trying to distance himself from.
The evident confusion and contradictions in Conservative Party policy towards London and other Labour-run cities, as they attempt to exploit the coronavirus emergency for electoral advantage, has been reported this lunchtime as causing some Tory MPs to “vent fury” over another imposition, an extension of the Congestion Charge zone as far as the North and South Circular Roads.
Today’s Evening Standard drew attention to the story Inside Croydon reported yesterday over a statement made by Croydon South MP Chris Philp, denying categorically that there was any such C-zone plan, when his colleague Shapps had already written to Khan demanding exactly that.
Shapp’s letter to Khan said: “Given the significant rise in congestion in inner London, we also propose the extension of the central London congestion charging zone to cover the same area as the Ultra Low Emission Zone.” The ULEZ is bounded by the North and South Circular, an area 18 times bigger than the present C-Charge zone.
As the Standard reports today, “This undermined public statements from Ministers, such as Croydon South MP Chris Philp, who had told the BBC on Sunday: ‘This suggestion… that the Government has insisted upon an extension of the congestion charging zone is completely and categorically untrue’.” Whoops…
Senior Tories at Westminster, including former party leader Iain Duncan Smith, Theresa Villiers, and Sutton and Cheam MP Paul Scully, were among those who logged-in to a virtual meeting with Shapps and who “vented their fury” over the transport secretary’s leaked C-Charge plan.
“We basically made clear that any extension to the Congestion Charge zone was totally unacceptable,” one MP told the Standard. “It in no way shape or form could it be the condition of any bailout.
“There is anger that even these things are being considered because they are totally unacceptable.”
The paper also reported that scrapping the Freedom Pass, which provides free travel for Londoners over 60 years old, is another money-spinning option being put forward by Shapps.
Free bus travel for London’s schoolchildren was due to be scrapped after the October half-term, one of the conditions of Shapp’s first TfL settlement, though that has now been delayed until next year.
The London Tory MPs say that getting rid of the Freedom Pass is a really bad idea that will cost them votes, something Bailey realised belatedly after inviting debate on the same suggestion at a fringe meeting at a Conservative Party conference.
Though Bailey, along the lines of the lies of his mentor Johnson, would doubtless claim that scrapping the Freedom Pass was all Mayor Khan’s fault…
In the meantime, Khan and TfL are trying to keep London’s transport infrastructure running.
Yesterday, Simon Kilonback, TfL’s finance chief, told a board meeting that unless a £2billion bailout was secured by the end of the month he would have to issue a Section 114 order, saying it could not run a balanced budget.
“It’s not something to be taken lightly,” Kilonback said. “It’s not a joke. It’s not a threat. We have a responsibility to the employees of TfL and our supply chain to avoid at all costs getting in Section 114 territory.
“It really is a nuclear option that precipitates disorderly disaster.”
Although Gilligan was appointed to the TfL board in as one of the conditions of the £1.6billion bailout agreed in May, he has so far failed to attend any meetings.
“Andrew Gilligan advises the Prime Minister,” Mayor Khan said. “I’m shocked he can’t be bothered to turn up to the TfL board meeting.”
But journalists are reporting that it is Gilligan, a transport adviser to Johnson during his time at City Hall, “was very pleased with the hike to £15” of the Congestion Charge. If Gilligan had been unhappy about that change, “those changes would have been vetoed”, they have reported.
“A great deal of what Shapps is telling TfL to do if it wants any financial help is steered and controlled by Gilligan – not only dumping fares concessions but also the things Bailey and fellow London Tories are most cross about,” they wrote.
“Gilligan has yet to attend a TfL board meeting, as the terms of the May bailout require him to… If he did, he might face some awkward questions.”
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