The war of words between City Hall and Whitehall over Transport for London stepped up today with just three days to go before the beleaguered transport network’s current funding deal runs out.
As the TfL board was warned that the network faces a “doomsday scenario” without long-term funding, Minister for London Paul Scully was serendipitously accusing Sadiq Khan of “scouring the dictionary of doom” in his campaign for cash.
TfL finance chief Simon Kilonback told board members that the government has not confirmed either how much support is on offer or how long the next deal will last and underlined that no extra capital funding had been forthcoming in October’s government spending review either.
But Scully, writing in the Evening Standard, accused the Mayor of “sabre-rattling” and attempting to negotiate through “threats, spin and press releases”. He added a reassurance that, “in the next deal we will commit, as we have before, to making up TfL’s loss of fare revenue from Covid”.
The issue is coming down, it seems, to brinkmanship over plugging remaining budget gaps until TfL can get its finances back into balance, and where that money is to come from.
Kilonback reported that Whitehall has already refused to devolve the £500 million Vehicle Excise duty levied annually in London or sanction a Greater London boundary charge – ideas put forward by TfL in January – and also declined to take up a further suggestion of a tax on online deliveries.
These rejections could result in increases in fares or Council Tax and the cuts to London Underground and bus services envisaged in TfL’s “managed decline” scenario, “fundamental reductions in the level and scale of transport provision in London,” Kilonback said.
However, Scully accused Khan of trying to “link two things which aren’t linked” by “threatening to cut services in the short term unless he gets capital funding from us for the long term”. With the post-pandemic future still uncertain, it was “too soon to make multi-billion bets” that travel demand would go back to what it was and the Mayor should take more responsibility for raising his own money,” the minister wrote.
With the two sides seemingly far apart, negotiations again look set to go to the wire. The Mayor told the board that his requests to meet transport secretary Grant Shapps face to face had been turned down.
Watch the TfL board meeting in full here.
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