Hands off Transport for London – government must publicly fund London’s public transport system

Transport for London
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The Tory government is pursuing a vindictive and politically motivated attack on Transport for London, and on Londoners dependent on public transport, by imposing punitive conditions on the bailout it grudgingly provided as TFL faced bankruptcy within 48 hours in June.

The government deliberately increased pressure by stringing out the discussions with TFL about the conditions imposed until TFLwas almost at the point where it was legally obliged to declare the system bankrupt. 

When TFL and Londoners heeded the government advice to stop the spread of COVID-19 by avoiding public transport there was a massive crash in fares income overnight. There were 95% fewer people travelling on the tube, and 85% fewer on the buses.

The Tory government had already created the situation where TFL was completely dependent on fares income by removing the government subsidy which every other capital city transport system in Europe enjoys.

At the point that TFL faced declaring bankruptcy within 48 hours, the Tory government seized the opportunity to impose its pro-privatisation, crony-enriching agenda on an essential public service through the punitive conditions it imposed on its provision of central funds. 

The conditions include the government’s spiteful decision to punish the most vulnerable Londoners, including the over-60s and under-18s, by cutting travel concessions. It is forcing TFL to increase fares and the congestion charge.

It has commissioned the restructuring wing of private accounting company KPMG to conduct a financial review of TFL, and has imposed two government “representatives” to sit on the TFL Board, and two of its most important committees, Finance and Programmes & Investment. Its aim is to reinforce the Tory false narrative about the Labour party being careless/profligate with money.

Transport for London has commissioned its own independent financial review to look at the long-term funding of TFL to ensure it is environmentally friendly, accessible, integrated, properly values its workers etc and fully supports economic recovery and development of London for the future. It will include a recommendation for a government grant.

It is clear that this anti-working class government is prioritising the restarting of the economy over people’s lives. Twenty-nine London bus drivers have already died from coronavirus – it is highly likely that there will be more because of the Department for Transport’s demand that TFL resume all its services more quickly than was planned, and is safe. (Unite has ensured that bus drivers are as protected as possible from the virus while working, but the very nature of their public-facing job will continue to put them in danger.)

The Tories’ fundamental aim is the seizure of a public service for Londoners run under a democratically elected Labour mayor and GLA and turn it into a facsimile of a private company. Their record on awarding millions of pounds in public contracts to friends in the private sector during the Coronavirus crisis, and also in the exams debacle reveals what it wants to do with TFL’s major contracts.

By contrast, the government has not placed anything like these conditions on its bailout of services under its direct control, like Network Rail, which was running at 70 per cent capacity in June.

As trades unionists we must stand up against this attack on a public service, and on a Labour administration 

More dangerous still, the minimal bailout only lasts until October 17 when TFL will have to negotiate more funding so it can continue to function until the end of the year. It looks as if the Tory government will try to impose even worse conditions on Londoners’ transport system.

The Tories are using the crisis of COVID-19 to turn the whole purpose and ethos of a public service transport system into its opposite – into a service that prioritises profits over human beings’ health and lives.

Trade unionists need to join a public facing campaign which tells the truth to Londoners about the government’s plans for their transport system.

TFL workers and London’s travelling public need a transport network which is integrated, accessible, environmentally friendly, sustainable and can ensure a rapid economic recovery from the coronavirus crisis. 

The government must restore a no-strings subsidy to TFL to ensure an integrated, accessible, environmentally friendly, sustainable transport network which can ensure London rapidly recovers from the coronavirus crisis, international recession, and the financial impact of what looks like an increasingly certain no-deal Brexit. 

Bronwen Handyside
TUC LESE rep on the TFL Board