London faces bleak future without £5bn cash boost, says Sadiq Khan

Mayor says TfL could return to ‘bad old days’ without central government support

Sadiq Khan has warned that the capital faces a bleak future of crumbling infrastructure and a return to the “bad old days” of unreliable tube and bus services unless the government steps in with almost £5bn of funding.

The London mayor said that without further central government support, investment would stall and infrastructure would collapse, affecting the whole of the UK’s economic recovery.

Khan said Transport for London had played “a vital role throughout the pandemic” but had been hit hard as a result of passengers following official advice and staying home.

Further borrowing was not a viable solution, he said. “The choice is stark: a safe and effective transport network that continues to deliver for Londoners and support jobs in the capital and across the UK, or a government-led spiral of disinvestment that sees vital infrastructure age and fail – wasting hundreds of millions of pounds, stalling economic recovery, and taking us back to the deteriorated transport network of the 80s and 90s.”

He added: “I remember what it was like 20 years ago, before the sustained investment we’ve seen over the last two decades – crumbling tube lines, unreliable services, old-fashioned ticketing system and lack of coordination. We must not return to the bad old days.”

Khan’s message came as Transport for London continued to negotiate a second rescue deal after coronavirus wiped out most of the fare revenue upon which it depends. A £1.6bn bailout agreed in May is due to expire on 17 October, and the prospects for London’s recovery have worsened with increasing Covid-19 infection rates and the government’s switch to again urging people to work from home.

As part of the emergency funding agreement, the government ordered a financial review into TfL and demanded that its own appointees – including Khan’s arch-critic, the Boris Johnson adviser Andrew Gilligan – sit on the board. Khan has contrasted the treatment of TfL, whose £700m annual grant funding was wound down after 2015, with the financial guarantees quickly given to private train and bus operators outside London.

TfL is looking for £2bn for the second half of 2020-21 and forecasts that a further £2.9bn will be needed the following year. It said that without the funding it would have to reduce services, jeopardising social distancing on public transport, and cut vital upgrades, eventually running 50- to 70-year-old trains on some tube lines.

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It also needs more money to complete the delayed Crossrail, or the Elizabeth line, a project jointly sponsored with the Department for Transport.

A DfT spokesperson said: “The government is engaging with TfL and the mayor on the impacts of Covid-19 on TfL’s finances. These discussions are ongoing and will ensure London has a safe, reliable network while delivering a fair deal to taxpayers.

“We would rather avoid negotiating through the media, so it would not be appropriate to disclose further details at this stage.”


Gwyn Topham

The GuardianTramp

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