Mayor accused of 'bankrupting' capital as Londoners face TfL hikes

21 October 2020, 10:18 | Updated: 21 October 2020, 10:55

By Maddie Goodfellow

Sadiq Khan was today accused of 'bankrupting' London as millions in the capital face the prospect of higher fares to cover the covid funding shortfall.

The Government has been accused of hitting Londoners with a "triple whammy" of higher costs in return for Covid-related funding for Transport for London (TfL).

Robert Jenrick told Nick Ferrari on LBC today: “We do have to resolve the fact that the mayor has bankrupted TfL and the Greater London Authority due to a number of catastrophically bad financial decisions on the Tube, on the public transport network.

“We’ve already given multiple billions of pounds to him over the last few years to bail him out.”

Mayor Sadiq Khan has called on ministers to reconsider "ill-advised and draconian" proposals for covering the funding "black hole" which are said to include:

- Extending the £15 Congestion Charge Zone to the North and South Circular roads in 12 months' time, which would see the zone expanded to cover around four million more Londoners.

- Increasing TfL fares by well above the inflation rate and doubling down on demands to remove free travel for under-18s

- Introducing a new council tax charge in the capital, regardless of whether residents use public transport

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Speaking to LBC's Nick Ferrari on Wednesday the Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick accused the Mayor of "bankrupting TfL," adding it was not fair for taxpayers across the UK to pay for the capital's transport system.

Sadiq Khan has criticised the plans
Sadiq Khan has criticised the plans. Picture: PA

Speaking at a Transport for London board meeting, Mr Khan said: "Now is not the time for the Government to play party political games or be vindictive towards London.

"This is far too serious a matter.

"We need to do what's right for the city and the people of the city who have endured so much during this crisis.

"I say to the board this morning, I intend to stand firm and fight for a fair deal for Londoners and do what's right for our city."

Last week, when the new plan was revealed, Mr Khan said: "I simply cannot accept this Government plan, which would hit Londoners with a triple whammy of higher costs at a time when so many people are already facing hardship.

"The Government should be supporting Londoners through this difficult time, not making ill-advised and draconian proposals which will choke off our economic recovery.

"Ministers already forced TfL to bring forward proposals to increase the cost and hours of the congestion charge in May, now they want to expand it to cover four million more Londoners.

"They also want to significantly increase fares in London and hit all Londoners with a regressive new tax.

"It is clear that difficult choices lie ahead to plug the huge gap the pandemic left in TfL's finances. I have been ready to talk with Government about how the necessary funds can be raised but a proposal which singles out Londoners for punishment is completely unacceptable, as well as making no economic sense.

"I urge ministers to come back to the table with a revised proposal which does not punish Londoners for doing the right thing to tackle Covid-19 and to publish their review into TfL's finances in full."

TfL has fallen into a financial blackhole during the coronavirus pandemic, with footfall crashing 90 per cent as Londoners have heeded advice to work from home to try and reduce the spread of coronavirus.

But speaking to LBC's James O'Brien during Speak to Sadiq, the London Mayor said he "wouldn't support" current measures suggested by the government and aired his frustration that a deal has not been reached sooner.

Although he refused to be drawn on the exact details,, he did say that reports of rises in fares and the halting of free travel for the under 16s and retired were a "fair reflection" of what is being discussed.

"I don't think you should punish Londoners for doing the right thing or adding conditions to us that you don't attach to others," he said.

"Ive been quite clear, taking away free travel for the under 18s is not something that I would support and so its really important that the government works with us, its in both of out interests to get TfL running.

"I'm annoyed that it's taken us until this week to get into proper negotiations. We were ready earlier to negotiate a new deal. I said back in May that the deal we had for six months was a sticking plaster," he told James.

"We need a sustainable deal, bearing in mind for the foreseeable future we will not see five million journeys on our tube or five and a half million on our buses."

Speaking on LBC, Conservative mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey accused Sadiq Khan of running TfL "into the ground".

He said: "I think the first thing to say about this being removed is there's no forward planning. That's why this money has been wasted, that's why the traffic has been built up to crazy levels. [It's] because Sadiq Khan is not planning for anything.

"He needs to plan across London. If you're going to put in these lanes, where are you putting them in and why?"

He added: "What it signifies is a greater waste of money at TfL at the very time we need to fix London and fix TfL.

"TfL is so important to London [and] to this country's economic recovery and Sadiq Khan is just running the organisation into the ground."

Shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon said: "It's extremely worrying that despite repeated requests, the Government is offering only a papering-over-the-cracks funding package for Transport for London, with such punitive conditions."

Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs' Association, said: "This punishment of Londoners and TfL is nakedly political from the Tories.

"They were only too happy to prop up failing private train operators, but when it comes to our country's transport success story they won't provide the funds needed."

Finn Brennan, Aslef's organiser on London Underground, said: "The Government's failure to provide funding for publicly owned TfL is in stark contrast to the multimillion-pound handouts to private sector operators and management consultants."