Sadiq Khan has claimed a continuing failure by the government reach a long-term funding agreement for Transport for London could threaten thousands of jobs in the north of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland and even result in the removal from London’s streets of many of the New Routemaster buses Prime Minister Boris Johnson introduced when he was the capital’s Mayor.
With Johnson under severe pressure following revelations about lockdown-breaking social events at 10 Downing Street and elsewhere in Whitehall, Khan’s latest warning about the economic implications of providing only short-term financial help for TfL – with unwelcome conditions attached – highlight the range and scale of supply chain links between transport investment in the capital and jobs elsewhere in the UK.
“London’s transport system is not only fundamental to the success of the capital but to driving economic prosperity right across the length and breadth of the country,” the Mayor said. “It is no exaggeration to say that tens of thousands of highly skilled jobs – many of which would be from outside the capital – will be at risk if ministers fail to properly fund TfL.”
Khan says TfL contracts support 43,000 jobs around the country including 3,000 in bus manufacturing in Scarborough, Falkirk, Leeds and Ballymena, where the New Routemaster fleet, a flagship Johnson’s mayoral policy, were produced. The Mayor claims that 1,000 of these vehicles, bought by TfL when Johnson was at City Hall, might have to be taken out of service because there won’t be cash to pay for their approaching “mid-life refurbishment”.
The Mayor’s linking of TfL’s financial troubles with the health of the national economy maintains the emphasis of his campaigning on the issue since his re-election last May and comes amid further evidence that Johnson has fallen out of favour with voters in parts of England that helped him to his 2019 general election majority.
A poll by Opinium published at the weekend found that nearly half of the Leave voters who backed him then now think he should resign, and former Downing Street pollster James Johnson has tweeted negative comments from members of a focus group composed of voters in the Bolton North East constituency who voted Conservative for the first time in 2019. A survey conducted earlier this month gave Labour a strong lead in so-called “red wall” seats that swung behind the Tories under Johnson.
With Londoners already facing likely fares increases of up to five per cent, Johnson suggested in a recent Covid press conference that he intends to force further hikes on Londoners, saying that any sustained funding settlement for TfL requires Khan “to initiate a sensible and pragmatic fares policy” and not what he called the “retrograde” one of freezing TfL fares, as Khan did during his first term.
Johnson has previously falsely told the House of Commons that TfL was “effectively bankrupt” before the pandemic, when in reality the transport agency’s financial crisis resulted from a collapse in fares revenue after Londoners and others stopped using public transport in response to the Johnson government’s “stay at home” lockdown instructions.
Conservatives, including their defeated mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey – who has resigned as chair of two London Assembly committees following revelations that he attended a lockdown party during the campaign – have repeatedly argued that TfL has been mismanaged under Khan, but the government has refused to publish a review of the transport body’s finances by accountants KPMG it commissioned at the time of its first emergency funding package.
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