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Transport for London: Funding

Volume 823: debated on Thursday 23 June 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they expect to announce the details of any further Extraordinary Funding and Financing Agreement for Transport for London (TfL) for the period after 24 June; and when they expect that there will be a long-term solution to funding TfL.

My Lords, the Government have repeatedly shown their commitment to supporting London’s transport network since the start of the pandemic, providing almost £5 billion in emergency funding to Transport for London. The Government have committed to consider a longer-term settlement, and we continue to discuss further funding requirements with TfL. However, any future support provided will focus on getting TfL back on to a sustainable financial footing in a way that is fair to taxpayers across the country.

My Lords, I regret to say that I cannot honestly thank the noble Viscount for his reply. I was hoping that the Government would take the opportunity to end the uncertainty facing Londoners, both passengers and staff. Of course, it is not just Londoners; people across the country depend on work from TfL and on London as a key powerhouse of the UK economy. What we face is managed decline, making a mockery of the Government’s purported policy of levelling up. Will the Minister give a specific commitment to support the necessary capital expenditure that the Transport Secretary has acknowledged will be required in London as well as in the rest of the country?

To the extent that the noble Lord is right, he makes a very important point: the London Underground transport system in particular is one of the best in the world, and is recognised as such. It is important that we continue to fund it wherever and however we can. But this extraordinary funding, so defined, was meant for a specific purpose, as a result of the revenue shortfall due to the Covid-19 pandemic. I am well aware that tomorrow is 24 June, although I regret that I am not able to tell the House what extension, if any, can be announced today.

My Lords, the Minister knows that clouding this process is the absolutely appalling relationship between the Prime Minister and his successor as mayor. As a result, the absence of long-term funding is hitting not just passengers but business, as we have heard, because TfL is not able to enter into the proper procurement processes with companies all around the United Kingdom. Without that, they are losing business. Will the Minister join me in calling for the Prime Minister to step back from this feud and enable a long-term deal to be done for TfL?

The noble Lord knows full well that this is a matter for the mayor and Transport for London. The department works closely with TfL on a range of operational and policy issues, but negotiations with trade unions and averting further industrial action on the London Underground are a matter for the mayor and TfL. But the noble Lord makes a good point; we are keeping a close eye on this because it is important that Transport for London is funded properly.

My Lords, many of us who have a close and long association with Transport for London would be deeply keen to see a long-term settlement that covered both operating costs post Covid and the necessary capital investment. But will my noble friend agree that the games that have constantly been played by the Mayor of London since this began, his failure to engage seriously with any responsibilities, and his refusal to take difficult decisions are at the heart of the failure of trust between him and Ministers? Does my noble friend agree that TfL and its fine workforce are suffering as a consequence?

My noble friend makes a good point; supporting TfL and the staff that work so hard for it is important. I say again that we remain committed to supporting London’s transport system, but only on the basis that TfL is returned to a position of financial sustainability in the interests of the UK taxpayer. We are giving some help, but it is important that outdated methods of working are closely looked at. My noble friend is right that trust is the main mantra.

My Lords, is it not a fact that it is the Government who have been playing political games with TfL’s budget, as they do in so many other areas? They are playing games by drip-feeding resources and not engaging in good faith in the negotiations that they say they want. When will the Government stop that and instead provide the necessary funding to deliver the transformation that the mayor, this House and all the passengers in London look for?

I totally take issue with the noble Lord; what he said is simply not true. As I said earlier, this is a matter for the mayor and Transport for London, and we have been helping where we can. I say again that the matter is linked to financial sustainability and TfL moving towards updating outdated issues—driverless trains and other matters are being looked at.

My Lords, what, if anything, is happening that might lead to the reopening of Hammersmith Bridge in due course?

I can give my noble friend—I think I can call him that—an update. The Government remain committed to supporting both the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham and TfL in the repair of Hammersmith Bridge. A first business case was approved, but there is another stage whereby a further business case that is compliant with Treasury rules has to be presented. It is important that we remain committed to the reopening of Hammersmith Bridge.

My Lords, the situation we face is extremely serious. This is not just some transport issue; it is about London. London’s integrated public transport system is absolutely crucial. We are talking not just about domestic use but about London’s international reputation: it is why firms are willing to locate here in the financial district. I was involved in recovering London transport from the managed decline of the 1970s—it took three decades. This is not just about whether the mayor and Prime Minister can agree with each other; it is about recognising that we cannot be allowed to slip into that syndrome again. Can the Minister assure me that this is the central objective of government?

I regret that I am not able to give an announcement on funding beyond tomorrow, but the noble Lord is right that investment in London benefits the economy and supply chain outside London. The Government recognise the need for certainty and stability in Transport for London’s capital investment programme, and remain committed to supporting London. But TfL’s income for 2021-22, including revenue from fares, road user charging, business rates and council tax—and our emergency support—is about the same as it was in the last year before the pandemic.

Will my noble friend join me in congratulating the staff of, and those working in, Transport for London on keeping the service going so brilliantly during the pandemic, and on the way on which it has been recovering?

Most certainly. My noble friend is absolutely right: about 26,000 staff work for TfL, and they work extremely hard on our behalf. As she pointed out, the difficulties that have arisen over the pandemic have been quite extraordinary, and I pay tribute to the staff on behalf of the Government.

My Lords, one of the areas that has not received sufficient investment is transport on the river, which I used during the Tube strike the other day. It worked brilliantly, but there are not enough boats—

Those are boats; ships are rather different. I will have to give a seminar on that. But will there be any more investment in river transport? In particular, will the Government not pass legislation, given that rules implemented by the MCA are making it impossible for some older and most marvellous heritage craft to use the river?

I also wish the river were used more; I am the beneficiary of it, in that I use what I would call a ferry from Battersea Power Station up to the London Eye. My understanding is that this service is privately owned and not funded by the Government. The noble Lord makes an extremely good point; it is a valuable service, particularly during the strikes, when more people have needed to use it. I hope that more people will look at the river as a permanent means of transport.

My Lords, I apologise that we have fallen behind the time, but I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, asked his question.