Susan Hall: The Mayor is punishing London’s commuters for Transport for London’s wasteful spending

14 Oct

Susan Hall is the Leader of the Conservative Group on the London Assembly.

Transport for London is bust. Mayor Khan can’t afford to pay City Hall’s rent. And to balance the books, Khan is planning to cut the police. The level of financial incompetence in Sadiq Khan’s City Hall is astounding. In the London Assembly, we’ve been working on getting to the bottom of Khan’s botched books to expose the waste, find savings, and get London’s devolved government back on track. Here’s the latest from the front line in the GLA Conservatives’ battle to protect taxpayers’ cash from Khan’s shredder.

As Transport for London (TfL) is continuing to waste millions of pounds, Khan looks for another taxpayer-funded bailout. It won’t come as a surprise to anyone that TfL is a bloated bureaucratic mess, but the scale of waste on Khan’s watch is eye-watering. The latest waste the London Assembly Conservatives have exposed revealed that the bill for TfL staff working on trade union activities has nearly doubled under Khan. In Boris Johnson’s final year as Mayor, the bill was only £4.4 million, but it has soared to £8.7 million in 2019/20. In comparison, the entire civil service spends just £10 million on so-called facility time, that’s £1 million more than TfL, despite the fact that it has over 400,000 staff to TfL’s 27,000.

In the Assembly, the GLA Conservatives have been pushing for the Mayor to scrap one of the appalling examples of waste at TfL, nominee passes. This TfL staff perk allows someone they live with, from a family member or spouse to flatmate or lodger, to travel for free in London. This wasteful perk has reached record levels under Khan, and we, conservatively, estimate that it costs £44 million in lost fares revenue. However, no one at TfL or the Mayor’s office, which both argue the perk costs nothing as the trains would be running regardless (ridiculous, I know), don’t appear to know the true cost. It could be losing TfL far more than our conservative estimate and punching a sizeable hole in TfL’s finances. That’s why I put forward a motion in the Assembly calling on the Mayor to scrap TfL’s nominee passes. Unsurprisingly, Labour voted against it, to protect Khan’s wasteful perk.

We’ve also uncovered more information which again shows that the Mayor’s plan to move City Hall to east London simply doesn’t add up. In the Assembly’s Oversight Committee, Khan made a rare appearance, in a foul mood, to “answer” questions about his plan to abandon the custom-made City Hall building for the far smaller Crystal building in the Royal Docks. The Mayor claims that the move will save up to £55 million, and while I welcome his sudden desire to save taxpayers’ money, his figures just don’t add up.

The latest revelation has been that costs of moving have spiralled upwards by 70 per cent to £13.6 million, mainly due to security concerns about the new building. Bizarrely, after this came to light in the meeting, Khan then increased his saving projection to £59 million. Later, his aides admitted that Khan’s latest claim didn’t take account of the new lower rent deal, City Hall’s landlord is offering. This confused matters even more as not only does Khan’s new claim not consider the likely cost of staying at City Hall; it seemingly ignores the spiralling costs of the move. Previously, the GLA Conservatives had estimated that the likely savings of the move would be nearly 50 per cent less than Khan claimed. Mainly because the Mayor failed to consider the forgone rental and commercial income from the move. Taking into account the latest developments, and supposing the landlord was willing to reduce the rent by a third, the savings could be as low as £10.4 million over five years.

London’s devolved government has been hit by the perfect storm. After years of financial mismanagement and waste, Khan’s bloated TfL and City Hall has been hit by an unprecedented loss of income due to the coronavirus crisis. Far from learning his lesson, Khan is sacrificing Londoners’ priorities to preserve his wasteful spending. This is crystal clear in the Mayor’s decision to cut London’s policing and fire budgets by £135 million to balance his chaotic books. That’s why it’s more important than ever that Khan is held to account and his damaging choices exposed. And that’s what I will be doing in my new column for this website. As we head towards the rescheduled London election next year, I hope to give Conservative Home readers a greater insight into the work of London Assembly Members and why, alongside Shaun Bailey, we need a strong Conservative team to join him in the Assembly.