Tony Devenish is a member of the London Assembly for West Central.
It’s absolutely right that Transport for London is well-funded; we should recognise how generous the Government has been.
Over the course of the Covid pandemic, any Conservative Home reader who managed to avoid hearing or reading the views of London’s Self-Promoter-in-Chief, Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, should be very proud of their achievement. If you didn’t successfully avoid the Mayor’s propaganda then the very great likelihood is that he was complaining about the Government rather than actually doing his actual job.
Complaining about the Government is Sadiq Khan’s Modus Operandi. It is as if he believes that the answer to any question about why he has failed over six and a half long years – whether that failure is over policing, housing, environment or transport – is that it is the Government’s fault. The Government, which has given him £8.82 billion to build houses should have given him even more and, for good measure, allowed him to destroy the rental sector by giving him the power to introduce rent controls (Berlin, Ireland and Scotland show how crazy this idea is). The Government that has delivered record funding for policing in London should have given him ever more money and as for Transport for London, well…
Actually, Transport for London (TfL) is a different matter. Throughout the pandemic, Sadiq Khan, who as well as Mayor of London is Chair of the TfL Board, would try and claim that the Government was starving TfL of funds. In contrast, Andy Byford, until recently the TfL Commissioner, has been clear that although the Government were tough negotiators, he was very grateful for the £6.2 billion of additional financial support that his organisation has received over the course of the pandemic and its aftermath. On top of this, the Government has agreed to underwrite TfL risk of inflation, even as inflation has climbed into double digits. Any fair-minded assessment would agree with Andy Byford. The Government has been generous and more than reasonable, especially given the performance of the Mayor over this time and this month’s Autumn Statement.
There are some difficult decisions that the Mayor and TfL will need to make to ensure that they cut their cloth accordingly. Throughout negotiations, the Government promised to ‘cover the cost of Covid, but not the cost of Khan’. As Mayor, the cost of Khan has been substantial.
The generosity of the Government’s long-term funding package has done something shocking. It has, at least for the moment, if not quite silenced the Mayor’s complaints, at least quietened them. Thanks to the agreement, the Mayor, who less than a year ago was threatening to close an entire Tube line and slash more than 100 bus routes, is now committed to at least a dozen major capital projects from Four Lines Modernisation (which would upgrade the District, Circle, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan Lines) and new trains for the Piccadilly Line, to the Barking Riverside Extension and the Silvertown Tunnel.
This has not stopped the Mayor from pursuing a “bleeding stumps” strategy, by deliberately making cuts that will hurt Londoners and then seeking to blame the Government for them. For example, he is planned to slash bus routes across my London Assembly constituency in central London. His plans would have seen 78 bus routes reduced or scrapped. This would only save around £15 million and is precisely the wrong approach. Instead, to fix TfL’s finances following the pandemic, the Mayor needs to make savings by: reforming TfL’s extremely generous gold-plated pensions, a saving of at least £100 million, ending paid union facility time, and scrapping TfL’s nominee passes perk. The Mayor must look at more creative ways to raise revenue for TfL, for example, by significantly expanding corporate sponsorship on the Tube network. There is much he could and should learn from Boris Johnson’s Mayoralty.
For example, in 2016 Khan was incredibly clear that 35 TfL strikes under Johnson’s Mayoralty was “a disgrace”. He attempted to draw a contrast claiming:
“As Mayor what I’d do is roll up my sleeves and make sure that I’m talking to everyone who runs public transport to make sure there are zero days of strikes.”
To say he has failed to live up to this promise would be an understatement, with London approaching it’s hundredth strike in just over six and a half years of Khan’s Mayoralty. This begs the question of how best to describe a record of 3.5 times as many strikes per year as Boris Johnson. If 35 strikes was a disgrace then what is nearly 100? Pathetic? A dismal failure? A catastrophe?
Finally, now that TfL has more money, there should be no more excuses for slow progress Londoners have seen on vital transport improvements. At least the Elizabeth Line has finally opened: credit to both TfL and the Government here. An issue on which I have long pushed for better solutions is excessive Tube noise in people’s homes, which makes too many lives a misery. We must see faster and more effective progress in ending this blight. We must also see an acceleration in step-free access across my West Central constituency and London as a whole.
Hammersmith Bridge has now been shut to cars for three and a half years. Although the Bridge is owned by a Labour Hammersmith & Fulham, TfL is the strategic transport authority. Rather than waiting for Government to provide leadership and a third of the cost (which Government has done), Khan should have taken Stephen Cowan, the Borough’s Labour Leader, aside to get things sorted. The next Mayoral and London Assembly elections aren’t until May 2024, but we Conservatives need to get on with selecting our candidate in the New Year. So no more excuses. You have the money, Mr Mayor, please deliver.