The latest extension of short-term funding support for Transport for London, announced today, is the least surprising of the deals and add-ons that have been dragging on since the pandemic blocked TfL’s revenue bloodstream in spring 2020, after passengers followed government orders to stay at home.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps has, after all, been busy launching and then abandoning a bid to become the next leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister. The current funding arrangement, put in place in late February, has already been elongated from 24 June to today, 13 July, and will now stretch until 28 July. After that, who knows?
Shapps has hitched his wagon to that of former Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who has topped the first round of voting in a Tory leadership contest that will not be completed – and Boris Johnson replaced – until 5 September.
With summer holidays approaching, Shapps’s department said to be in a sorry state, and TfL commissioner Andy Byford stating on the record that the “never-ending, exhausting, frustrating negotiations” over money are making his “the hardest job I’ve ever done” it is easy to imagine nothing new being resolved until the autumn.
On the other hand, given Johnson’s preoccupation with forcing his priorities on TfL and much else supposedly devolved to London Mayors, can even harsher conditions being imposed on London’s transport body be ruled out as the outgoing PM makes the most of the time he has left at Number 10?
Every London organisation with an interest in this matter seems as sick and tired of the government’s attitude as Byford. for example, Adam Tyndall, transport direct at BusinessLDN – formerly the business group London First – says of today’s development that “short-term extensions to TfL’s funding are better than a kick in the teeth, but they don’t help to secure London’s economic recovery or the investments that will ultimately support sustainable growth across the UK.”.
He adds: “If the government is unable to agree a long-term deal before a new Prime Minister is in post, they should at least provide the certainty needed to keep running services through the summer, not just the next fortnight.”
As for Sadiq Khan, he says the latest extension is “only necessary because the government has still not put forward any proposals for discussion on the long-term funding London needs,” and warns agains that if things don’t change the “managed decline” scenario TfL has set previously set out will follow.
Some argue that the Mayor should have been more conciliatory towards the government from the start and might have made more progress that way. But Johnson’s centralising administration seems so utterly convinced that its Whitehall knows best perhaps antagonism has been Khan’s least bad option.
Whatever your view, the future of transport in a capital city that is crucial to the UK’s economy remains uncertain.
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