Transport for London has received no response from the government to a detailed plan it submitted in January for placing its finances on a stable footing post-pandemic, Sadiq Khan confirmed today, despite the deadline for reaching a new funding settlement being due to expire tomorrow.
The terms of the government’s second emergency funding package, which came into effect last autumn, stated that “TfL will, by 11 Jan 2021, produce a single, comprehensive management plan with options as to how a trajectory to financial sustainability could be achieved” as soon as possible.
However, the Mayor said at this morning’s Mayor’s Question Time (MQT) session, the first since his re-election on 6 May, that the government has not engaged with the TfL plan at all, with communication limited to an acknowledgement that the document had been received.
“So far we’ve received no formal response or any response to the plan we submitted by the deadline,” Khan said, answering a question from Green Party London Assembly Member Sian Berry, who had heard heard TfL commissioner Andy Byford disclose the information at a TfL committee meeting last Friday.
The 115-page plan acknowledged that many of its proposals would “take time to develop and implement” and require “significant collaboration” between the government, the Mayor and TfL if they were to be brought in successfully.
Key proposals including devolving to TfL Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) collected in the capital but almost entirely spent elsewhere in the country or introducing, by October 2023 at the earliest, a daily Greater London Boundary Charge on motor vehicles registered outside the capital each time they entered it of £3.50, or £5.50 for the most polluting ones.
However, transport secretary Grant Shapps appeared to dismiss the VED suggestion soon after it was submitted and in early February went on to publicly rubbish the boundary charge idea.
These interventions did not prevent Conservative London Mayor candidate Shaun Bailey repeatedly falsely claiming throughout his recent unsuccessful election campaign that such a boundary charge – which he chose to call an “outer London tax” – would be introduced if Khan won, even pretending to voters four days before the election that it “would mean anyone driving into Greater London would have to pay £5.50”.
In further exchanges with Berry, Khan said that without more financial help “you’ve either got to massively reduce expenditure or find other ways to raise revenues.” He added that it will be some time before pre-pandemic levels of public transport use return, with the Underground at 40 per cent of normal levels yesterday and buses at around 60 per cent. Khan stressed that “we need to keep running a full service because otherwise people aren’t going to come back.”
Khan also told Berry that when meeting with his nine fellow English city Mayors earier this week discussions had included “conversations around the CRS [government comprehensive spending review] and what bids we put in as a group as well as what we put in as individual mayors.” He said he hoped the next review “creates an opportunity to put us all in the same place” as opposed to the different arrangements presently in place.
Later, the Mayor declined to be drawn by Tory AM Tony Devenish, who represents the West Central constituency, on when the temporary increases in the price and operating hours of the central London congestion charge would end, saying it would not be appropriate to engage in a “running commentary” on the continuing discussions with the government.
Khan reiterated that the current charge level of £15, which is in effect seven days a week from 7.00 a.m. until 10.00 pm which came about as part of the first emergency funding settlement last May, was imposed on TfL by the government. On London understands from someone who was close to those negotiations that the change was strongly approved of by Boris Johnson’s special adviser on transport Andrew Gilligan, a former media supporter of the Prime Minister.
“I want us to be back in charge of what the congestion charge should be,” Khan told Devenish. “That autonomy means we can decide what works for our city rather than either the secretary of state, a Number 10 adviser, or civil servants in Whitehall or the DfT.”
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