Sadiq Khan has accused Boris Johnson’s government of treating Londoners unfairly and showing “bad spirit and bad faith” over its financial rescue package for Transport for London, as arguments about strings attached to the £1.6 billion bailout continued at his monthly Mayor’s Question Time session (MQT).
Pointing out that the the emergency funding includes a £505 million loan element and a number of conditions, Khan said he is concerned that “we’ve been punished in a way others haven’t,” and urged the government to “reflect on their behaviour and ask themselves if this is the way to behave during a national crisis.”
The deal, concluded late Thursday afternoon, was followed this week by a parliamentary statement from transport secretary Grant Shapps in which he ascribed some of the blame for TfL’s budgetary problems to Khan’s stewardship over the past four years.
It has also sparked a political row in the capital over the Mayor’s recent announcement that the congestion charge, which has been suspended since 23 March as part of the coronavirus lockdown measures, will rise on 22 June from £11.50 per day to £15 and operate for longer hours for seven days a week, rather than the current five.
Conservative London Mayor candidate Shaun Bailey has described as “a lie” Khan’s saying that the forthcoming charge rise had been imposed on him by national government as a condition of the settlement, which is designed to keep TfL afloat until October. The government press release announcing the funding package said only that the congestion charge would be reinstated and Shapps’s subsequent statement said only that the Mayor had “announced” the coming increase.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, Bailey, who is Tory AM, said “at no point did the government stipulate an increase in the congestion charge, only that it had to be reintroduced” and that it “be reviewed going forward”. The Conservative claimed it was “Sadiq Khan’s decision alone to immediately increase the charge by 30 per cent and also to expand the hours of its operation to seven days a week during this sensitive period for public health and the economy”.
Khan has refuted the accusation, reproducing a section of the as yet unpublished document detailing the funding package, which says conditions attached to it include the immediate reintroduction of the London Congestion Charge, along with the ULUZ and LEZ road pricing schemes, and “urgently bringing forward proposals to widen the scope and level of these charges”.
At MQT, which was conducted remotely, Bailey asked the Mayor to provide him with a copy of any congestion charge proposal, but Khan replied that there was no document of this kind and that there had as yet been no request from the government for him to go further with his changes to the charge: “If the government aren’t happy with the proposals, it’s open to them to say ‘we don’t like them’. So far, they’ve not said that. We think we’ve met their objective without the need for them to say we’re breaching the agreement with them.”
Bailey has previously drawn attention to a Guardian report saying a spokesperson for the Mayor had said “it was the Mayor’s decision” to increase the charge, though On London has learned that City Hall considers this a misrepresentation.
The full details of the bailout have yet to be published. Pressed to do so by Tory AM Tony Devenish, Khan responded that he is awaiting the government’s consent to do so. “I’m very happy for Londoners to see the very onerous conditions placed upon us,” he said.
Other conditions include restoring collection of bus fares, temporarily suspending free travel on all TfL services for Londoners aged over 60 and free bus travel for under-18s and increasing all TfL fares by RPI inflation plus 1 per cent from January. This will be in line with TfL’s current business plan assumption, but go further than the limited fares increases Khan said during the interrupted mayoral election that he would introduce if re-elected. The final decision on fares levels lies with the Mayor.
Asked by Labour AM Alison Moore if he thinks the government has yet to make the full bailout details public in order to “continue to make false claims about what you agreed to do”, Khan said he had made known he was unhappy with the deal, but “what I didn’t do was go running to the media as the government did on Thursday night and Friday morning, briefing [against me].” He also accused to government of “briefing aggressively” against the Scottish and Welsh governments.
Arup economist Alexander Jan has provisionally estimated that the congestion charge increase would make only a small contribution to closing the budget gap, saying “TfL would be doing amazingly well to net an additional £100 million per annum from the changes”.
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