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Transport: London Underground

Volume 701: debated on Wednesday 7 May 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether Transport for London has adequate continuity of funding to complete the modernisation programme of the London Underground system.

My Lords, the Comprehensive Spending Review 2007 settlement sets out the expected levels of Transport for London grant and borrowing to 2017-18 and makes provision for the continued modernisation of the Underground. It is now for Transport for London to manage its costs and priorities within its overall financial settlement.

My Lords, that is an extremely encouraging response, but given that the new and very able chief executive of London Underground has laid out such a comprehensive plan over these years, will the noble Lord be able to transmit to the new mayor his new enthusiasm and that of the Government for the whole scheme?

My Lords, I am sure that the newly elected mayor will be very well aware of his responsibility for ensuring that the money that we have set aside for the next 10 years is well spent and spent on the continuation of the refurbishment programme. I pay particular tribute to the Transport Commissioner for London, Peter Hendy. He has done a fantastic job, as has Tim O’Toole. They are to be congratulated on ensuring that the refurbishment programme is very much on track.

My Lords, I think that everyone acknowledges—certainly the Select Committee did—the financial disaster of the Metronet experiment with the Tube. Rosie Winterton announced a few weeks ago a working party to try to rectify some of that. To follow on from the supplementary question asked by the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, surely now that we have a new Mayor of London we can have a new staff, and I hope that those discussions start straightaway with the new mayor to improve both the safety and the quality of our Tube.

My Lords, this Government have a record and a reputation for working well with directly elected mayors. I am sure that Mayor Boris will fit neatly within that. It is in no one’s interests that we fail on these projects, because obviously we all share as a common objective the safety, security and continued improvement of London Underground and transport generally in London.

My Lords, will the noble Lord reassure us that the Government will not force Transport for London or the mayor down the expensive and complicated PFI route that was behind the collapse of Metronet, that they will cease to force fixed-price contracts on people, and that they will encourage partnership and the target contracts that are used by Docklands Light Railway and the London Overground where the contractors and the people buying enter into a partnership which in the end has delivered on time and on budget and has left a surplus to be shared by the two investors?

My Lords, I hear what the noble Lord has to say on the subject of PFIs, PPPs and so on, but Tube Lines, which is the other major provider of services on the network, has worked extremely well by and large. I think most people would argue that it has delivered satisfactorily and that it demonstrates that PPPs work. I understand that the new mayor is a fan of PPPs, so that will obviously inform his approach. It is perhaps worth recording that last July Tim O’Toole said about Metronet:

“This is more about Metronet’s structure”—

—the failure, that is—

“than it is about the PPP”.

We have to take a longer-term and more balanced view. PPP has delivered some significant improvements to our Underground network.

My Lords, as a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Crossrail, it would intrigue me very much to know whether the financial future of Crossrail is now in place. Hitherto the impression that we have received from the Government is that they give moral exhortation but no money. This is a vital improvement to the London transport system, and I hope that the Government will take it in hand.

My Lords, we made an announcement towards the end of last year. The Prime Minister himself made it very clear that we are not only committed to Crossrail but that we have committed the money for Crossrail. We agreed a package with the London mayor and the City that we will deliver Crossrail. Crossrail is an extremely exciting and important project. I would not want to see anyone get in the way of ensuring that that project works properly.

My Lords, as the new mayor’s only policy statement on transport is to get rid of the bendy bus and to replace it with a new Routemaster at so far unspecified cost, how can the Government ensure that the money allocated to the Tube will stay there and not be moved by the new mayor to a new type of bus?

My Lords, the new mayor’s views on bendy buses are well known. I happen to take a completely different view, but that is as it is. Last week, people voted for Boris Johnson to be the mayor and we have to respect that. No doubt, he will take into account very carefully the views expressed to him by the transport professionals. They have enabled buses in London on every weekday to carry some 6 million passengers on more than 700 routes. The problem with taking away the bendy bus is that you will require two buses to replace the capacity that the bendy bus has in order to deliver on the major arterial routes. There is a very interesting argument to be had, is there not, on that issue? But I am sure that Mayor Boris will swiftly move from being a jester politician to someone who takes these issues more seriously.

My Lords, given the unfortunate collapse of Metronet and the funding required for Crossrail, does there remain sufficient funding to deliver the Tube modernisation programme at the rate originally envisaged for phase 2 of the PPP?

Yes, my Lords, that is the case. The funding is in place. As I said earlier, the settlement is for the 10-year period. The £1.7 billion that we have had to guarantee with regard to Metronet was money that Metronet had borrowed from the banks, which the Government would have had to pay over time in any event. That should not affect the programme for funding the continued improvements of the Tube network or Crossrail. Those refurbishments are very much on time and on budget.