Sadiq Khan has rejected calls from the government to accept severe conditions attached to a potential Covid bailout for London and pushed back on Tory threats to take central control of Transport for London.
In a Sky News interview this afternoon, the Labour mayor warned that “unless the government reaches a deal with us by the end of this month, we won’t have monies that we’re required to do so by law”.
His comments followed threats by the UK government to take control of the capital’s transport system if the mayor does not expand the congestion charge zone and increase travel fares across the city.
The mayor told viewers that TfL will soon be facing significant financial difficulties due to the pandemic and that this would necessitate running fewer services. He added that this would pose a threat to public health.
Khan said: “What I’ll need to be doing is reducing services in London… The problem with that is not only will businesses suffer, but at a time when there’s a pandemic we need people who use public transport to keep a social distance.”
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has declared that that the government “will be taking reserve legislative powers allowing us if necessary to direct TfL” if London does not submit to the impositions.
The mayor added: “What I’m saying is, in the short term, we need a Covid grant to support us and then let’s work on a long-term plan to make sure TfL is on a sustainable financial footing.”
Khan posted on social media earlier this afternoon to say that Boris Johnson had lied to MPs in parliament during Prime Minister’s Questions this afternoon when he accused the mayor of having “bankrupted London”.
He argued: “The Prime Minister on the floor of the Commons basically told a lie, which is to give the impression that the reason TfL has financial challenges is because things we did, I did, before the pandemic struck.
“The reality is that over the last four years, we’ve managed to reduce the deficit I inherited by more than 71%. It was £1.5bn when I became mayor, it was reduced to £200m before the pandemic struck.”
The mayor explained that the difficulties facing the transport system in the capital have been caused by a reduction in fares of more than 90%, and he accused the Tories of “attaching draconian conditions” to a grant.
He rejected the conditions and told viewers: “I’m not willing to accept that four million additional Londoners up to the north circular and south circular pay £15 a day for using their car.
“I’m not willing to accept that some of the poorest Londoners pay an increase in regressive council tax to pay for public transport. I’m not willing to accept a well-above inflation increase in fares.”
The government earlier this year withheld a support package of £1.6bn until the mayor agreed an increase in the congestion charge and an extension of the ultra-low emission zone charge to the weekend.
The Labour London mayor said this afternoon: “I think it’s wrong to remove travel for the poorest children in our city. And I think it’s wrong to remove travel for our poorest 60 year olds, as well.”
Commenting on the Tory proposals, ASLEF general secretary Mick Whelan said: “This is a punitive, and politically motivated, move with the privatised train companies getting a bailout from the government, but not TfL, which is in the public sector.
“That is not just wrong, and ideologically-driven, but stupid. London is the only major city in Western Europe without a government grant for day-to-day transport operations.
“Passengers and fares have fallen by 90% during this pandemic but that is not the fault of Sadiq Khan, the London mayor, nor is it the fault of staff.”
The dispute over the funding comes as TfL confirmed the latest death of a bus driver from coronavirus, which has brought the number of fatalities among workers during the pandemic to 45.