With one-fifth of buses and 10% of Tubes under threat of cuts, ‘TfL could become a byword for managed decline’ warns Mayor Khan as Tory government plays brinkmanship with the capital’s economy
London’s transport system is “23 days away from disaster”, according to the leader of one south London council, as the government once again plays at brinkmanship over an emergency funding settlement for the capital.
Transport for London hit a funding crisis in the first covid lockdown last year, when its fares revenue all but dried up completely. It has yet to properly recover, and has been dependent on a series of bail-outs from the Tory government since.
These negotiations have been following a familiar pattern over the past 12 months, since the first multi-million settlement, with Conservative ministers demanding a range of cuts to London’s bus, Tube and tram services, and the axing of many large-scale infrastructure projects.
This part of south London has already been hard hit by these government cuts by stealth, with junction improvements at Fiveways on the A23 Purley Way junked, the £17.5million Liveable Neighbourhood project for Roman Way and Old Town, aimed at making that area less dominated by urban freeways, apparently abandoned, and Sutton’s hoped-for tram extension shelved.
The Fiveways junction proposals have been on the TfL engineers’ drawing boards for more than six years. With the abandonment of the Westfield shopping mall in the town centre, there is no longer a compelling business case for TfL to spend money they have not got on the A23 traffic scheme. Meanwhile, residents in Waddon and Wallington living close to one of London’s most polluted roads will continue to inhale the noxious traffic fumes.
But now, with TfL facing a £1.9billion funding gap and the deadline for the latest settlement just three weeks away, senior figures at City Hall and in local government around the capital are predicting that by causing willful damage to London’s infrastructure, the government will be damaging the nation’s economic recovery.
London’s leaders portray the situation as the capital being punished because its residents have followed government advice and stayed at home to help stop the spread of coronavirus.
Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, claims that 1-in-5 bus services could be cut and 10 per cent of Tube axed without government money.
Yesterday, Greenwich Council leader Danny Thorpe told BBC Radio London: “Londoners need to be clear we are 23 days away from serious disaster in this city with the failure to resolve a new package of support for Transport for London.
“Say all goes well and 80 per cent of Londoners return to work by January next year and all get back on the trains. Well, actually that still leaves a £1bn funding gap for our city.
“Our plea to the government and the prime minister is to take the personality politics out of this debate.
“These are literally life and death services – we’re talking about some of the poorest Londoners taking busses to get to work. If we’re talking about having to cut services, what’s going to happen to these people?”
Writing in the Financial Times, Mayor Khan said, “I support the drive by ministers to ‘level up’ the UK, but that should not mean dragging our capital city down, which is the risk the government is taking with London’s transport system.
“Transport for London is suffering an unprecedented financial crisis caused by the pandemic, a problem London can’t solve alone. Despite repeated warnings from business groups, TfL and City Hall, ministers are refusing to provide enough investment to maintain vital transport services. Not only will this have a devastating effect on passengers, it will jeopardise the national economic recovery.
“We have sought to work constructively with the government, trying to negotiate a long-term settlement for TfL. We hoped for additional funding in the Treasury’s recent spending review, but nothing materialised. With time running out before TfL’s temporary emergency funding deal comes to an end on December 11, it is my duty as London Mayor to sound the alarm.
“Ministers say they want other regions to have ‘London-style’ transport services — but their failure to provide enough funding means it won’t be long before the capital itself no longer has ‘London-style’ transport services. Instead, TfL could become a byword for managed decline.
“This is no exaggeration.
“TfL has already made massive efficiency savings, cutting annual running costs by £1billion over the past five years. If the government continues to starve its funding, there will have to be significant service cuts. At a time when ministers want workers to return to their offices, bus services will have to be reduced by 18 per cent and London Underground services will be cut by 9 per cent, with a fall in reliability due to ageing train fleets, some of which date back to the 1970s.
“This would inevitably force car owners back into their vehicles more often, with negative consequences for congestion, safety and the environment. Crumbling transport infrastructure will mean more road and tunnel closures, leading to greater disruption and gridlock.
“To be clear: TfL is not requesting new additions to the network. Schemes such as Crossrail 2 and the Bakerloo Line extension, though worthwhile, are now completely out of reach. The risk confronting us is much starker — that the millions of Londoners who rely on TfL will experience fewer, less frequent and more dilapidated services.
“The city’s residents should not be penalised for the effect of the pandemic in reducing TfL revenues. This would also conflict with Downing Street’s objectives of levelling-up, tackling climate change and stimulating tourism and economic growth to aid the UK recovery.
“I am a big advocate of greater transport investment and levelling up in regions of our country that have been neglected for far too long. But clipping the wings of London and its surrounding southern regions is not the answer if you want other cities and regions to soar. There can be no national economic recovery without a London recovery, and there can be no London recovery without a properly-funded public transport network.
“London contributes nearly £40billion net to the Treasury each year and for every £1 invested on the London Underground, 55p is paid to workforces located outside London, with TfL contracts contributing around £7billion to the UK economy. This supply chain is currently supporting 43,000 jobs around the country — in Falkirk, Ballymena, Bolton, Derby, Liverpool, Yorkshire and beyond — jobs which could be at risk unless the government changes its anti-London stance.
“With just over three weeks to go until the current temporary deal ends, it’s time to stop short-term political thinking.
“The future of TfL and our capital is too important. Rather than threatening the recovery, ministers must start working in good faith to protect London’s transport network for the sake of the capital and the whole country.”
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