Sadiq Khan has doubled down on his determination not to bow to mounting pressure over controversial plans to extend the capital’s Ultra Low Emission Scheme (ULEZ) to the whole of the city from 29 August this year. The scheme aims to tackle poor air quality, with older, more polluting vehicles charged £12.50 a day for driving within the zone.
Quizzed by London Assembly members (AMs) at a budget and performance committee meeting ahead of the assembly’s final vote on City Hall’s 2023/24 budget this Thursday, Khan said work to introduce the scheme was continuing despite the launch of legal action by four outer London boroughs and Surrey County Council. “We are operating on the basis that the scheme is going ahead,” he said.
The Mayor also repeated his rejection of a call from Liberal Democrat AMs to boost his £110 million fund allocated from City Hall transport services reserves to help lower income Londoners, charities and small business to scrap older, more polluting vehicles. That call will be repeated on Thursday, but will need the support of at least a two-thirds majority of AMs to make it into the final budget, a hurdle which has never been cleared in the mayoralty’s 23-year history.
Lib Dem AMs had proposed using a further £100 million from the transport reserves, currently unallocated, to double the size of the scrappage fund, and Conservative members in particular also challenged Khan’s decision to spend £130 million of a £188 million revenue windfall from larger than expected council tax and business rate income on free school meals for London’s primary school pupils.
But TfL finances were too fragile to run down reserves any further, Khan said, with the government’s most recent funding deal ending in March 2024, demands under that deal for £600 million-worth of spending cuts and £500 million in new revenue, and “no certainty” about public transport ridership recovery. “Having to make ends meet is a real concern,” he said. “The transport reserve is really important.”
A possible recession and continuing inflationary pressures pose a “very real financial risk” to TfL, added Khan’s chief of staff David Bellamy. “We are keeping that reserve to help us if these risks materialise,” he said. “We don’t want to be pushed back to cutting services and managed decline. It is important to be prudent and keep that money available.”
Current demand for replacement vehicles also suggested that there was already enough money in the scrappage pot, Khan added, with spending the bulk of his extra revenue on the free school meal scheme a decision he had preferred over adding to the scrappage money. The school meal scheme, he said, would provide a year’s-worth of free meals to some 270,000 pupils, saving families £440 per child.
Khan also highlighted plans to add two million kilometres to London’s bus services, with the first million to be in place by August when the expanded ULEZ comes into force. The Mayor added that funding for the scrappage scheme would nonetheless be “kept under review”.
The full budget and performance committee can be viewed here.
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