‘Planned neglect’ no solution for London funding

10 July 2009

In a report issued today the London Assembly’s Budget and Performance Committee warns that the capital’s transport network could face a funding gap of £1.7 billion. ASLEF’s Keith Norman said that while the report makes depressing reading, ‘planned neglect’ of the system is not an option. ‘Such action would combine economic madness and social lunacy,’ he says.

 

‘There must be no short-term knee-jerk reaction to bad news,’ he said. ‘We are talking about the life-blood of a major city, not the accounts of a Grantham grocer. Clearly public money – our money – is needed to subsidise the network. Public transport dogma cannot apply to the capital city’s public transport.

 

‘We need affordable, accessible and reliable transport in our capital because the alternative is inevitable economic and social decline. It would be planning for a Third World city.’

 

Keith says that ‘What can we find to cut?’ shows a defeatist and hang-dog attitude. ‘What are we prepared to invest in?’ is, he says, much more pertinent.

 

‘We need to show confidence in our city. We should be getting ready for future growth by improving our transport links - and thereby creating jobs and wealth for Londoners.

 

‘There is a clear divide between the merchants of doom who see no future for the city, and the progressive optimists who see this as a challenge to equip our capital for the growth years to come.

 

‘If we can find funding to rescue investors in the money-market, we can surely find it for Londoners going about their business.’

 

The London Assembly blames the recession for the scale of the funding gap. It says that the fall in passenger numbers this year alone will cost the service £112 million even without a freeze on fares in line with the agreed formula. Depending on the length of the recession and the speed of recovery, the Committee estimates the loss of income could spiral to £1.7 billion by 2018.

 

The Budget and Performance Committee suggest solutions could include

  • increasing fares much higher than inflation
  • reducing services
  • halting planned improvements and expansions
  • finding greater efficiency savings - in addition to the £2.5 billion already required in the business plan

 

It calls for Londoners to be consulted about fares decision, as happens in Paris and New York.

 

The chair of the Committee, John Biggs AM, said, ‘Finding ways to plug the gap that do not impact on services or place a large financial burden on fare payers will be difficult.’

 

Keith Norman agrees that there are no easy answers: but, he says, the old formula of cut, cut and cut again, is ‘the thinking of a bye-gone age’.

 

‘We must plan for the next expansion, not the last recession,’ he argues.

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