JEREMY CLACKSON, transport correspondent, on the latest last-gasp arrangement forced on the capital by anti-London Dominic Cummings and his government
Croydon South MP Chris Philp and his Tory government have consigned the whole of London to significant Council Tax rises and inflation-busting fare rises next year, after agreeing to use £1.8billion of tax-payers’ money to keep the capital’s buses, Tubes and trams running through their bungled second coronavirus lockdown.
Philp and his government have been accused of “still playing childish political games with London” after a last-gasp agreement was reached over the capital’s transport system on Saturday night.
A deal was agreed with just 15 minutes left before the witching hour deadline on Hallowe’en, with London Mayor Sadiq Khan and Transport for London officials resisting government attempts to remove free public transport from the over-60s and teens, or to extend the C-Charge Zone to the South and North Circulars.
But the new six-month funding package – described by Mayor Khan as “not ideal” – will also see TfL make cuts of £160million.
The free travel for schemes for pensioners and teenagers will continue, but those concessions — worth about £270m a year — will have to be funded by TfL. City Hall said the Mayor was considering a “modest” Council Tax increase to fund the benefits.
That decision on whether to increase the TfL element of the Greater London Authority’s “Council Tax precept” must be made by January 2021, when Khan will also present a plan for the long-term financial sustainability of TfL.
The Tory government has insisted that the “temporary” higher Congestion Charge of £15 will be extended until April, and could become permanent.
Tube, bus and tram fares are expected to rise by 1per cent more than the annual inflation rate in January.
The agreement was announced early on Sunday, but discussions will continue on a new funding package for the following year, with the latest lockdown restrictions expected to play further havoc on the TFL’s main income stream – passenger fares.
TfL’s income from fares collapsed after the government’s instruction to work from home in March. Transport bosses were forced to seek a £1.6billion bailout in May.
London’s Tube system receives a smaller proportion of funding from taxes and government subsidy than many major cities, including New York, Paris and Singapore.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps had threatened to take direct control of TfL unless Khan accepted a package of measures, including significantly extending the traffic congestion zone and slashing fare concessions.
Shapps’ original letter to Khan a fortnight ago, including the demands for an extended C-Charge Zone and axing Freedom Passes and Zip Cards, caused massive embarrassment for Croydon MP Philp, when he went on television and denied that such demands had been made days after TfL had received the minister’s letter.
Judged by his tweets this weekend, Philp has at least managed to brief himself by reading Shapps’ latest letter to the London Mayor.
What the approach of the government to London highlights, though, is its antipathy towards the capital – despite its pivotal role in the national economy – and their continuing willingness to subsidise their mates and donors in big business.
The anti-London Dominic Cummings-led government did a deal with the private companies operating the railways without any of the strings attached imposed on the Mayor, prompting Labour claims that the government was seeking to undermine Khan.
The mounting acrimony between the current and previous Mayor of Londonreached boiling point when Boris Johnson falsely claimed in the Commons that Khan had “bankrupted” TfL. Khan called Johnson a liar.
The rise in Council Tax towards the cost of running a regional transport system used by many from outside the Greater London area has been highlighted as another injustice inflicted upon Londoners, which the capital’s Tory MPs, including Philp and Sutton’s Paul Scully, have failed their constituents.
“The agreement is fair to taxpayers across the country,” Shapps claimed.
The new lockdown in England — announced on Saturday evening — will put new pressure on TfL’s finances, which have been shattered by a collapse in passenger numbers during the pandemic.
The number of people riding on the Tube fell to as low as 5 per cent of normal levels during the lockdown earlier this year, but has since crept back to just over 30 per cent, while buses have been running at about 60 per cent of normal numbers.
Sunday’s funding package will provide TfL with an extraordinary support grant of £905million as well as incremental borrowing from the Public Works Loan Board of £95million.
Caroline Pidgeon, the LibDem who is deputy chair of the London Assembly’s transport committee, was in no doubt about what was going on between Westminster and City Hall: “It is absolutely clear that this Government is still playing childish political games with London.
“I am relieved that the foolish and damaging proposals to strip away free transport for under-18-year-olds have finally been dropped,” Pidgeon said.
“Young people are suffering enough and these proposals should never have even been considered. It is also good news that some of the speculative stories in recent weeks about taking away free travel for over-60s have not materialised.
“However, let us be clear we still do not know how cuts of £160million will be made by TfL. There are still more important details that need to be released relating to this funding agreement.
“Most importantly this deal only runs for five months and runs out just at the start of the pre-election period to the Mayor and London Assembly elections. There is no long-term certainty.
“The government has treated TfL completely differently to the privately-owned train operating companies which were offered an 18-month deal with hardly any conditions imposed.”
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