With the government exploiting difficulties arising over covid-19 to turn the financial screw on Transport for London, a Labour Assembly Member has accused the Tories of “giving London a kicking”.
Elly Baker AM’s report, TfL Funding Settlement – Another short-term sticking plaster, says Londoners must be given a say over major changes to their buses, Tube, trains and trams.
And Baker has called on the Department for Transport (DfT) to hold a full public consultation before bringing in any further changes affecting the capital’s transport network.
When the first covid-19 lockdown hit last March, virtually all TfL’s income from fares ceased for almost four months. Fares revenue has not fully recovered even now, while the organisation’s costs have continued at pre-pandemic levels.
The government stepped in, imposing commissioners on the TfL board and a series of demands including a fares hike, an increase in the congestion charge, an increase in Council Tax to maintain free travel for under-18s and over-60s, and a freeze on frontline workers’ pay.
Baker says that the Conservative government has used the emergency funding negotiations to “give London a kicking”. By doing this, they were undermining the country’s economic recovery.
On June 1, the government said it would give TfL £1.08billion in emergency funding through until December 11.
As a result of the conditions that came attached to the funding, TfL have also been ordered to begin (again) background research on bringing in driverless trains and to look at how they can raise an additional £500million in funding each year. This comes on the back of the onerous terms in two previous emergency deals in May 2020 and October 2020.
Labour at City Hall claim to have blocked moves to expand the Congestion Charge zone and the scrapping of free travel for children and older people. Other cut-backs that have been proposed include reducing the bus network by as much as one-fifth.
In her report, Baker warns the worse could still be to come. Londoners could see a year-on-year fare rise of 17 per cent or see their Council Tax bills increase by as much as £165 per year (for a band D property).
Fares make up 72 per cent of TfL’s income. Boris Johnson, when he was Mayor, agreed to the government axing TfL’s annual £700million operating grant from 2018.
Baker says, “The government handed no-strings-attached funding to private operators totalling £7billion and lasting 18 months, while TfL has been given short-term deals lasting six months and amounting to £3.4billion.”
Baker’s report also calls on the government to work with City Hall on a deal that delivers long-term, sustainable funding, reinstates London’s operating grant and allows London to retain the £500million it raises in Vehicle Excise Duty each year, which is currently spent on other parts of the country.
Baker, Labour’s London Assembly Transport spokesperson, said: “With the government enforcing sweeping changes to TfL’s funding and support, there’s going to be a big impact on Londoners’ transport services, their fares, and maybe even their Council Tax.
“There’s a real injustice at play here. Londoners did the right thing in staying at home during the height of the pandemic, and now, because TfL needs some emergency help to cope with a drop in fares income, the government are using it as an opportunity to punish Londoners with cuts to their services and rising transport costs.
“At some point, probably in the not too distant future, the government are going to ask that people return to their workplaces. Hiking up fares and charges could be a big disincentive to people returning to their offices. With TfL acting as the arteries to the capital, which in turn is the beating heart of the British economy, giving London a kicking means giving the country a kicking. This approach will only undermine everybody’s recovery.
“TfL might be forced to implement these conditions, but make no mistake, these decisions are being made at the heart of Government and they need to be transparent with Londoners about what changes they’re making and why.”
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