[Sir David Amess in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered e-petition 331453, relating to funding for Transport for London.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I thank all right hon. and hon. Members for taking part in the debate. There are quite a lot of Members on the call list, so I will speak as quickly as I can to fit everyone in. I hope hon. Members will forgive me for not taking any interventions, so everyone can get in.
On behalf of the Petitions Committee, I thank the over 170,000 people who have signed this petition, including 1,272 people from Carshalton and Wallington. I appreciate that there might be questions as to why we are having this discussion, given that the second Transport for London bail-out protected free transport for under-18s, but I think this is a live issue that will return, so it is right that we take the time to discuss it this afternoon.
I might be showing my age, but I can remember the introduction of the Oyster card scheme and free travel for under-18s. From the days of keeping loose change by the front door to get the bus to school, we changed to the Oyster card system when I was in high school. I have some personal experience of the impact that removing free transport for under-18s could have, having been on both sides of the introduction.
I pay tribute to the team at the Petitions Committee, which has conducted a survey among those who signed the petition to find out a bit more about their views. We have had over 3,000 responses to that survey. I would like to run through the key findings of the survey. Participants were asked how important zip cards, or other forms of concessionary travel, were for young people, and the impact that their removal might have. A zip card, or other form of concessionary travel, was reported to be “very important” to access school or college by 93% of respondents. It was also considered to be “very important” by 80% of people for accessing services, including medical appointments, 79% for work, 72% for training placements, 60% for accessing leisure and extra-curricular activities, 65% for socialising and 62% for meeting family and friends. If the 16-plus zip card scheme were suspended, 71% of respondents said they would find it “extremely difficult” to access school or college, 57% said it would make it “extremely difficult” to access work and 61% said it would make it “extremely difficult” to access services, including medical appointments.
The survey went on to ask the respondents what impact the removal would have on their travel habits. Almost five times as many young people said they would use taxis “very frequently”, with the number of people who would use private car “frequently” or “very frequently” more than doubling. The number of respondents who indicated they would cycle increased by 82%, but there was no significant change indicated by those who said they would walk. The survey also found that 60% said they would use the tube, DLR, London Overground or TfL Rail less, and 56% said they would use a bus or a tram less.
It is clear that petitioners feel that the change would have a great impact on their lives. Therefore, it is only right that we look at the heart of TfL’s financial situation. It would be easy to say that coronavirus and the subsequent drop in passenger numbers is responsible for TfL’s financial woes. Indeed, the onset of covid-19 has resulted in significant reductions in passenger demand, not just in London but across the country. For most of March and April, daily tube usage was around 5% of normal levels and daily bus usage was only 18% of normal levels. While we have seen a rise in passenger numbers over the past few months, they have remained stubbornly far below normal pre-pandemic levels, and the recent re-imposition of an England-wide lockdown has also had an effect on TfL’s finances.
However, I want to talk about the state that TfL’s finances were in before the pandemic hit. It is clear to me that Londoners were, and are, being let down by a Mayor whose mismanagement of the capital’s transport network has cost TfL billions of pounds in lost revenue, waste and bail-outs, as well as the pursuit of transport policies that he knew TfL could not afford. There are countless of examples of this, and I will run through a few.
At least £640 million in revenue was lost by freezing pay-as-you-go fares that essentially benefit tourists, but not Londoners, who saw the cost of their travel cards rise. Crossrail has been delayed by nearly four years, despite being on time and on budget when this Mayor took office. It was due to open in December 2018, but after multiple delays it is now not expected to open until mid-2022. The delay has cost TfL £3.9 billion in bailouts and £1.35 billion in lost fares revenue.
TfL’s debt has rocketed to a record £11.7 billion. Some 21 major transport projects have been delayed or cancelled. The bill for TfL staff on trade union duties has almost doubled. TfL’s nominee passes, which essentially let the housemate or lodger of anyone working for TfL ride for free on the tube network, cost an estimated £44 million in lost fares. The amount TfL spends on executive pay has ballooned. The number of staff on over £100,000 a year has risen by nearly 100 in the last four years.
TfL’s performance-related pay bonus has gone up by nearly a third, from £8.3 million in 2017 to £11.8 million in 2019. Fare dodging is estimated to cost £400 million. £12.3 million has been wasted on the Rotherhithe crossing and £20 million on Woolwich ferries, and the list goes on.
As pointed out by our excellent candidate for Croydon and Sutton on the London Assembly, Neil Garratt, that has had an effect on boroughs like mine, in Sutton. In a London Assembly report released last year, it was shown that Sutton was dead last for investment from City Hall out of all the London Boroughs, and that was pre-pandemic. That means that the future of transport projects, such as the Tramlink extension to Sutton, which our London Assembly member Steve O’Connell has been championing for a long time, is in jeopardy.
It is fair to say that we are going to be living with the effects of the pandemic for some time, and that includes transport in London. The Government expect TfL to prepare proposals for achieving financial sustainability by 11 January 2021, in advance of a long-term solution for TfL’s finances being announced before the second bailout expires in March 2021.
That long-term package must address the huge wastage that I have outlined and not punish Londoners for the cost of the pre-pandemic mismanagement of TfL’s finances. However, ultimately this comes down to the political choices of the Mayor, and in May next year the petitioners will have a choice to make: four more years of waste and higher costs with the current Mayor, or getting TfL’s finances under control and delivering a better deal for Londoners with Shaun Bailey.
It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. Five minutes is quite a generous allocation compared with many other occasions, so I thank you very much for that, and I thank the Petitions Committee for facilitating this debate.
I also thank the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) for opening the debate, but I must say that his speech was disappointing. It crudely politicised the issue, and we know why—because there is a mayoral election next year and the Conservative party has a pretty duff candidate. I know as much because he ran against me in Hammersmith in 2010. He is 20% behind in the polls, so there we have it. And now I am making a political speech, but that is what happens. These issues, whether they affect our individual constituencies or London as a whole, are ones on which we should be able to reach agreement. TfL’s revenue fell by 90% as a consequence of covid, so to go around pretending that it is something to do with this or that decision by the Mayor is, frankly, ridiculous, and makes the public think we are ridiculous. When such points are made in a debate in this place, we have to rebut them, meaning that we then go around in ever-decreasing circles and end up where we are. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman chose to take that position.
Again, this is where we are going: I hope the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington is now shamefacedly regretting making his opening speech in that way.
If I may be indulged, I will speak for a couple of minutes on the general issue and then a couple of minutes on something very dear to my heart and to those of many other hon. Members in south-west London—namely, Hammersmith bridge.
The figures show that the current Mayor managed TfL’s finances immeasurably better than his predecessor, and indeed in a very efficient way. The operating deficit was reduced by more than 70%, the cash balance increased by 30%, and the fares freeze was wonderful for London, as opposed to the 42% rise in fares overseen by the previous Mayor. If we had not had the fares freeze, there would be a bigger gap to fill now, so even basic maths seems to escape Government Members when they talk about these issues.
A bail-out was necessary—does any hon. Member present deny that a bail-out was necessary or appropriate? —but we have to have six-month bail-outs. We cannot have a longer-term one to allow better planning, because of course the Government want to keep this story running and have another artificial row, with a 17 minutes to midnight, last-minute piece of blackmail just when the election is coming up. It really is that transparent, and the way in which the Government are dealing with this issue is, frankly, not worthy. I wish they would stop politicking in this obvious way, because the only people who suffer are our constituents.
The Government have targeted TfL’s progressive policies, such as the under-18s travel card, the over-60s travelcard—perhaps I should declare an interest as of about a month ago—and the congestion charge. I remember the huge fuss about the congestion charge extension and the calls to withdraw it, but suddenly the Government want it to be extended to the north and south circular roads— which, by the way, would virtually bring London to a halt.
Please can we just have a little bit of common sense? Nowhere is that needed more than on the issue of Hammersmith bridge—a major strategic river crossing. It is a concern not just to me as the Member for Hammersmith, but to the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney), my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson)—we will hear from her later—and my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury), who will be here, if possible. It affects a whole swathe of London and the south-east. I had a debate on that subject in March and I thought that we were making some progress, but it is always groundhog day.
TfL and Hammersmith and Fulham Council were making progress in drawing up a full schedule of repairs for the bridge, but the taskforce set up by the Government has brought everything shuddering to a halt, as taskforces so often do. It is a national, if not international, embarrassment that we cannot repair a major river crossing. It will cost a lot of money—more than £150 million—but every day I look at the bridges Minister’s Twitter feed, she announces another £100 million here and there for road and bridge schemes around the country. On average, about 85% to 90% of that is paid by central Government, but apparently that does not go for Hammersmith bridge. I hope all London Members will support me in saying that it is about time that the Government set an example on a major piece of London infrastructure, which can be funded only through central Government. TfL, Hammersmith and Fulham Council, and Richmond Council do not have the means to do it. It needs to be funded now.
Last week, the leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Council announced a proposal by Sir John Ritblat and Norman Foster for a very innovative scheme to put a temporary crossing in place that would, in a relatively short period, allow traffic to go over and under the river at that point. That work was done by the local authority, working with the private sector. It still needs funding, and unless we have that funding quickly, my constituents and many others across London will continue to suffer not for weeks or months but years without the basic facility that that provides.
This is an extraordinary dereliction of duty by the Government, for patently party political reasons. The Secretary of State and the Conservative mayoral candidate announce every five minutes, “Don’t worry. Just vote for us and you can have the money.” I am afraid that does not cut any ice. My constituents and others want the bridge repaired. They do not want silly party political squabbles and game-playing. Let us have a response to that. If we can get it from the Minister today, that would be most helpful.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. At the outset, it is important to say that Transport for London is critical to the functioning of the city. It is vital for the economic and social wellbeing of London. These days, although it is unfashionable to say so, London is the economic motor of the UK economy. If TfL does not function, London does not function, and the knock-on effect on the country is inestimable, so it is right that the Government have stepped in.
It is worth pointing out that neither Transport for London nor the Government are responsible for the health crisis that we are in. It is true that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) and the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) pointed out, the pandemic has devastated Transport for London’s finances. That is a fact and is not open for debate. It is right that the Government have stepped in twice over a six-month period, to the tune of £3.3 billion, and that cost is borne by the UK taxpayer collectively.
There has been much comment that certain benefits enjoyed by Londoners before the pandemic are not covered by the bail-out agreements. It is important to note that at pre-pandemic levels, there was more than £1 billion within Transport for London’s transport provision. More than £700 million of that went into buses, and there were £330 million of other concessions. The Government’s position in both bail-out agreements is that it would be inequitable to taxpayers across the country to pay for subsidised travel that is not enjoyed elsewhere. Why should taxpayers in Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham pay for a benefit that Londoners enjoy but they do not?
London’s deputy Mayor for transport, speaking on behalf of the Mayor, has pushed back on that. She said that that amounts to levelling down, and that Londoners are more dependent on public transport. I think there is something in that argument, but the financial management at City Hall over the past four years leaves a lot to be desired.
The hon. Member for Hammersmith criticised my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington when he said that he had crudely politicised this issue. Has he ever met Sadiq Khan? I cannot imagine a politician in this country alive today who misses an opportunity to crudely politicise any issue at all.
There are other facts, which were laid out at some length by my hon. Friend. There is the fares freeze—or partial fares freeze, as it should be called, because it is not a complete fares freeze. I am sure that much will be made by Labour Members, when they come to speak, of the withdrawal of the revenue grant from Transport for London’s budget. They will not acknowledge that much of that is replaced by business rates, but they will harp on about the £700 million. They are right to draw attention to that withdrawal, because it has harmed Transport for London’s finances, but it did not happen in one year or overnight; it was phased in over a three-year period. The first year of it was under the previous Mayor, so candidate Khan, before he became Mayor Khan, knew about it. He knew that that money was going to disappear and he still, recklessly, pledged a fares freeze, a partial fares freeze, for the next four years in order to help garner votes to get himself elected. Transport for London’s costing of that at that time was £1.9 billion. Then, a few weeks later, it watered that down, because the commissioner was desperate to keep his job, to £640 million, and that is the figure that it is sticking at for the moment.
On top of that, we have, as my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington said, the massive delay to Crossrail. It is nearly £4 billion over budget and is four years late, and that will cost more than £1.6 billion in unachieved fares revenue. These things do not help, and they have happened.
Labour Members will say, and the Mayor has been saying ad nauseam, “Well, of course, this is a co-sponsored project between the Department for Transport and Transport for London.” That is true, but Transport for London is, and always was, the delivery arm for the project, because Crossrail Ltd, which the Mayor likes to blame, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Transport for London. And who chairs Transport for London? The Mayor of London. Crossrail’s delay can be laid squarely at the feet of Sadiq Khan.
We have heard about the 21 capital projects that have been delayed. We have heard about some of the fringe benefits—the TFL nominee pass scheme. We have heard—well, we had not heard about this—that trade union facility time at Transport for London has more than doubled under Sadiq Khan. There are now 81 people. The number of people who spend more than half of their time working solely on trade union facility activities has more than doubled. That is more than for the whole of the civil service put together.
We have seen other examples of Sadiq Khan’s wasteful approach to management. Staff costs at City Hall have gone up by 82% in four years. Does anybody believe that London is 82% better governed now than it was in 2016? Anyone at all? Of course not. The Mayor’s press office costs have increased by 33% since Sadiq Khan took office. There have been other really good headline-grabbing things, such as £800,000 spent on beach parties in 2018. And in 2019, £10 million was spent by the Metropolitan police to put every police officer over the rank of sergeant through a personality test to assign a colour to their personality. Apparently, that was critical. Ten million pounds was spent on that by this Mayor of London.
We are living in extraordinary times. The Government are dealing with an unprecedented health crisis. There is no manual for how to do this. The Government interventions, if they go to the full extent announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer last week, will amount to £280 billion, and they are very, very extensive.
In London, the Government have demonstrated their commitment to maintaining the core functions of Transport for London by injecting £3.3 billion of UK taxpayers’ money to keep Transport for London afloat. I do not think that anybody in this Chamber will argue with that, but in the circumstances, given the fact that the benefits in question are not enjoyed outside London and that City Hall under Sadiq Khan has been so wasteful with public money, it is hardly surprising that the Government should expect City Hall to fund the retention of such benefits.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David, but not an honour and not pleasant to hear that my time has been cut back by a minute. However, I am very happy to speak in the debate and to hear hon. Members. It is quite fun to have a little bit of old-fashioned political banter after what has been a pretty heavy six months on coronavirus and everything else—it is quite fun to be talking about bridges and things. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]
Many transport authorities across the world are trying to shift us all out of our cars and on to trains and buses and into cycling and walking. That is having a bit of a hiccup at the moment because of coronavirus, but I know that we all agree about the importance of clean air. Many hon. Members will have read the tragic story of nine-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah, who tragically died of asthma. Her family have been given an opportunity to take further legal action, to make us learn more about how we can make an impact on clean air in London.
I am really pleased that we are no longer at loggerheads about how transport will be paid for. I was panicking a couple of weeks back about the congestion charge and under-18s travel. The Child Poverty Action Group made the point that the zip card is incredibly important for young Londoners. As we know, young people have been so badly affected by coronavirus; it would be awful if they were doubly affected through the removal of zip cards.
In areas such as mine, the London Borough of Haringey, there has been a 182% increase in unemployment, including a huge whack of youth unemployment. Anything we can do to help young people use transport to get to job interviews, an apprenticeship, college or sixth form, would help enormously. London MPs do not get that many opportunities to gather together in this Chamber—it is quite fun—but when we talk about levelling up, we need to recognise that many people in our city live on extremely low incomes.
While we have an enormous amount of sympathy for people in Liverpool and Manchester, there massive deprivation in London. More people live in deprivation in London than outside it. I completely agree with the levelling up agenda, but I also think it should apply to London boroughs. Our boroughs, TfL and all our London government arrangements do a fantastic job, given that they often run off the smell of an oily rag.
In the coming six months, all our residents will have to pay more tax. The Chancellor’s announcement last week will mean every London borough will have to put up tax and the Mayor of London will probably have to put up the precept. That is a terrible pity. The International Monetary Fund and other groups have said that we should not be levying more money from citizens, because it is such a tough time for people with businesses and those struggling with their jobs. And now we know there will be a public sector pay freeze. This is not the time to put council tax up. It is very regressive. It is a typical wheeze from central Government to make local governments impose more tax. That is a real pity.
The housing market is quite buoyant at the moment, so I would like to see us work together as London MPs on how we can make developers share a bit more of the transport burden. I know there is a big change with the community infrastructure levy going into other arrangements and so on, but, given the buoyancy of our housing market, it would be useful to look at the transport element and how much more can be done. There is much more we could do, given that a lot of the developers go home with huge bonuses at the end of the annual financial year, while so many of our residents struggle on tiny incomes. There must be a way of getting them to pay for more of the transport improvements required for the clean air and standard of living we desperately need, as well as the cohesive communities we all seek.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I welcome this debate, brought by my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn). Before I start, I have an interest to declare: I have two teenagers who enjoy the free travel for under-18s.
I recognise the detrimental effect covid-19 has had on TfL’s finances. Anyone using the tube or bus will know of the dramatic fall in passenger numbers. I travelled here on the tube. The stations and carriages are empty. But we must accept that the rot in TfL’s finances had set in way before covid-19. Much of the blame for TfL being in such an awful mess can be laid at Mayor Khan’s door. Yes, the Government’s decision to phase out the operating revenue element of the TfL grant had some effect—losing £700 million a year would have been difficult to absorb—but the Mayor knew that before he stood for election and introduced his fare freeze. There was no strategic thinking about what could happen in City Hall once he was elected.
The Mayor introduced a major fare freeze across the network despite advice from his transport commissioner not to do so, which he ignored. That led to an extra loss of £640 million on top of the £700 million, which meant the Mayor had a loss of more than £1 billion before he had even finished his first year. This issue has also led to a fall in passenger numbers at the same time—a triple whammy, even before covid struck. In my constituency, people are now feeling the effects of the Mayor’s inability to invest in infrastructure. I might add that people in Pimlico desperately need the tube to be upgraded, because of the terrible noise that they have to deal with. The Mayor and his deputy have made personal promises to the people of Pimlico that now cannot be kept.
One of the big issues that has really affected my constituency is the extension of the congestion charge. A number of constituents and businesses have come to me because they are concerned about the extension to 10 pm from Monday to Friday, and about the extension to Saturdays and Sundays. Many people now describe it as a two-tier system, because at the same time as extending the congestion charge, the Mayor stopped the resident discount from 1 August. That applies no matter how long someone has been living within the congestion charge zone. Their circumstances might change: they will get older and might become frail, or they might have infirm children who need to be transported in a car. Such people can no longer benefit from the 90% reduction, which is a massive issue.
I have had doctors, pharmacists, foster carers, charity workers and market traders all say to me that the extension of the congestion charge and the ending of the discount is having a detrimental effect on their lives. One doctor who lives in Westminster has now been posted to the Surrey border. He wanted to use his car because of the times of his shifts, so he now drives, which adds £15 extra to his daily commute. A market trader in Covent Garden told me that she works at her small business two days a week, on Saturday and Sunday. The congestion charge on Saturdays and Sundays has now added £1,500 to her bottom line. At a time when we are trying to have an economic recovery, the charge is another blow to small businesses.
Why can the Mayor not consider the gross over-expenditure that he has introduced? TfL employees now have a 31% pension contribution from their employer, compared with 13% for doctors, nurses, police officers, firemen and teachers. Why should TfL employees benefit from that? Why has there been an increase of nearly 100 people who earn £100,000 a year working for TfL? All this fat could be cut, so that TfL can keep free travel for under-18s and the over-60s. It has to change, and the Mayor has to be held to account on this issue.
It is a great honour to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) on securing the debate. It pains me to agree with the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter), which I do rarely, although this is the second time in a London debate that I have done so. He is right that we would look ridiculous if we tried to say in this debate that there has not been a fall in passenger numbers and that there has not been a financial consequence for TFL. We are clearly saying that is the case, and nobody is saying anything different.
As so many hon. Members have already pointed out, the Government have put in funding packages twice, with £1.7 billion earlier this month and a previous package of £1.6 billion, making £3.3 billion. Ridership has dropped across whole networks, but that is not what we are discussing. We are discussing whether the Mayor’s decisions had an impact on TfL’s finances prior to covid, and the answer to that question, whether one likes it or not, is a resounding yes.
The hon. Member for Hammersmith spoke about how the Mayor has improved various positions, but none of that was a surprise to the Mayor, because back in 2014 TfL’s debt position was set out, along with how sustainable funding would need to be put in place. It was also recognised prior to the 2016 mayoral election that, rather than receiving other financial resources, £16 billion of savings would have to be made by 2022. Of that, £12 billion had been found prior to the Mayor taking office, so the idea that he has been hugely successful in finding any of those savings is complete nonsense.
The agreement that the Mayor has signed alongside this funding package recognises explicitly that he has not done enough during his term of office to find any more of those savings or benefits. I will not reiterate the remarks of my hon. Friends the Members for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken) and for Orpington (Gareth Bacon) about the numerous failings of Crossrail and the fact that the pay-as-you-go freeze has not benefited Londoners—something on travelcards might have done more—and £640 million has been lost in revenue.
The fact of the matter is that the agreement the Mayor signed with the Government for the funding package explicitly recognises that his financial management has not been good enough. That is why a major section of the agreement points out that he has failed to find a further range of operating efficiencies and that an assessment of capital efficiencies and a review of the long-term capital plan needs to be put in place. That is being done only because it is a condition of the package.
Finally, it is extraordinary that the Mayor has not proceeded with the plans produced under the previous Mayor and commissioner at TfL and gone through non-operational assets not generating any revenue that could be either used or sold off. That has a direct impact on the free travel for under-18s and over-60s that we are talking about—it is good that the Government’s package recognises its importance and ensures that it will continue—but there are also direct consequences for my constituents. The previous Mayor knew the value of infrastructure and invested in new trains for the District line. As a result of the delay or, indeed, cancellation of 21 infra- structure projects, part of the upgrade to the District line, which is key to the livelihoods of so many of my constituents, has not happened. That is a direct consequence of the Mayor’s financial mismanagement.
If the conditions that the agreement imposes on the Mayor were not in place, free travel for under-18s and over-60s, which is now protected, would be at risk. That is what we are talking about this evening—not what covid has caused but what was happening prior to that.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I thank the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) and the Petitions Committee for the debate. I draw Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and declare that I was proudly a trade union officer dealing with Transport for London at the time of the previous Conservative Mayor, seeing at first hand the insane obsession with £400,000 buses and failing schemes such as the garden bridge that cost an eye-watering amount of money and did not even build a bridge over the Thames. To take lectures from Conservative Members about that poppycock —to use one of the Prime Minister’s terms—is simply unbelievable. They are right, however, that the root cause of the problem goes back beyond covid-19 to the cutting of the operating grant.
For a long time, London’s transport system has been the jewel in the crown of this country’s transport infrastructure; every major railway line stops here to serve the rest of our nation as the economic engine. Yet we are the only country in western Europe to have pulled nearly £1 billion of the main subsidy from that transport system, which moves millions of people in and out of London every single day. That is the root cause of the problem. I have seen at first hand how the previous Mayor and the current Mayor have had to suffer the consequences of that decision.
In all honesty, there needs to be a settlement—a real one that is actually sustainable for Londoners. As hon. Members on both sides of the House have said, London is an economic driver. Although many people are having to work at home at the moment, which may be a fundamental change, the reality is that TfL will not be able to wash its face when 70% of its fares have gone completely.
Let us give the Mayor of London credit where credit is due. He successfully forced the Government to give up their plans to scrap free travel for older and younger Londoners, alongside their ill-conceived attempt, which almost caused a riot, to extend the congestion charge to my constituency of Ilford South on the border of the A406. That was a nakedly political move to hit the Mayor of London, and I believe it would be as deeply unpopular in east London as in many west London constituencies. Clearly, it was thrown straight out the window when constituents made their voices heard.
Again, those negotiations went down to the wire. The funding deal was agreed by the Government only 17 minutes before the deadline. That is not the way to run a system that supports millions of people travelling to work, even during the covid-19 crisis. The deal also came with huge strings, including £160 million of additional savings this financial year. On the facility time for trade unions, under Sadiq, relationships have been far better than they were under the Prime Minister, who would not even pick up the phone to me or any of my colleagues for four years. Megaphone diplomacy through the pages of the Evening Standard is not the way to run our capital city’s transport system.
Despite what was written in black and white in a letter from the Transport Secretary to the Mayor, the Government and, of course, Shaun Bailey, the Conservative candidate, are pretending that Sadiq chose to impose those conditions on Londoners. Londoners will not be taken for fools; they know that the Prime Minister wrongly said on the Floor of the House that the Mayor had bankrupted TfL before the pandemic. To use another of his phrases, that is simply balderdash. There is no possible way that radical change would not have been needed when 90% of footfall disappeared almost overnight.
The knock-on impact of the financial crisis is that young people in my constituency, which is one of the most diverse in London, now face having their zip card taken away from them. That is what allows them to travel across London and, when we are out of covid-19, to visit museums and the local library to study. As the Child Poverty Action Group has said, those are the children whose parents will have to decide whether to put food on the table because they suddenly have to pay for their child to travel to school. Let us not have a north-south divide. Why not level up the north, rather than level down London?
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I thank the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) for bringing forward this debate, which is an important one for us to have across the political parties.
Many of my constituents signed the petitions to scrap the removal of free transport for under-18s. I received so many emails from constituents who were concerned about the issue. I also met so many young people. The impact on them would be devastating were this to continue. I know that this decision will have an impact on so many of their lives, and their families’ lives, as it has during the summer.
I will share with Members the issues impacting my constituents shortly, but I must begin by setting the record straight on why we are in this situation right now. Despite the appalling circumstances that TfL was under when forced to suspend free travel for under-18s, the Government are pretending that the Mayor of London chose to implement those decisions. In fact, the Mayor was forced to accept the devastating bail-out at the last minute, which really punishes Londoners for doing the right thing by following the covid-19 restrictions.
The Prime Minister has oh so wrongly said on the Floor of the House that the Mayor bankrupted TfL before the pandemic. In the four years Sadiq Khan has been Mayor, he has fixed the financial mess that he inherited on TfL from the previous Mayor. He has reduced the operational deficit of TfL by 71% and increased cash reserves by 13%. With the delay of Crossrail in Abbey Wood, the Government have said that London should cover the projected funding gaps that the Crossrail project faces, despite its being a jointly sponsored project with the Government that brings economic benefits across Erith and Thamesmead and beyond.
During the covid-19 lockdown, TfL funding from fares dropped by 90%. Due to the dodgy deal struck between the current Prime Minister and George Osborne in 2015, removing TfL’s Government grant, London has been the only major city in western Europe that has not received direct Government funding to run day-to-day transport services in the last few years, meaning that it relies heavily on funding from passengers’ fares.
Instead of working with the Mayor to ensure that transport in London could continue to operate for people as we come out of lockdown, the Government have forced the Mayor to accept a bad deal that has since been used as a political campaigning tool. We cannot afford to play politics with people’s lives, which is why the Government must accept that the suspension of free travel for under-18s will have devastating consequences for my constituents, and ensure that the Mayor is not forced into that position again next year.
As I mentioned, this summer I spoke to young people about how covid-19 has impacted them. One of the main issues that was raised was the fear of not being able to afford to go to school following that decision. A young person in my constituency said: “As a young person from a family whose income has been affected by the covid-19 pandemic, this will change and hurt my family’s finances by paying for travel when we were barely able to afford it before. I, like many under-18s, rely on public transport every day to get to and from school. By doing this, many children from low-income families will not be able to afford to go back to school or go back home. Please stop this.”
The Government are supposed to work to protect people and ensure that everyone can have equal opportunities and life chances, yet they continue to put the economic burden of covid-19 on the most disadvantaged in society. Thousands of households in Erith and Thamesmead have seen their incomes slashed during covid-19. I am pleased that the Mayor has been able to reverse this appalling decision and secure free travel for under-18s until March 2021, but the uncertainty beyond that, combined with the added uncertainty of job losses and business closures, is causing so much stress for families across London. Young people should not have to pay for covid-19. They have the right to education, culture and safety, and I sincerely hope that the Government will take the time to ensure that cuts to free travel for under-18s will not be forced on the Mayor in 2021.
We have heard many sensible contributions from Members across the issues tonight. I would like to focus in particular on those that we experience in my constituency and many other parts of London towards the outer edge of the suburbs, in zone 6.
For those who have not had the pleasure of visiting Harefield, in my constituency, I should say that it is well known as the largest village in London to the north-west. Getting there means travelling through proper English countryside surrounded by fields, with grazing livestock and woods. It certainly does not feel like a part of our capital, and although it is served by a small number of bus routes laid on by TfL, we must recognise that for the residents there, and in many other parts of the outer suburbs, the subsidy provided for travel only helps if they can access the transport network reliably. For many places that simply do not have access to trains and tubes, that means a restriction on the benefit that they see. For many of my constituents, in a place that is much more dependent on the car than most of London and also home to many cabbies and minicab drivers, the services that TfL operates to keep our traffic moving are also enormously significant, although afforded rather less attention under what feels very much like a zone 1 Mayor than we have seen historically.
We need to recognise that all Londoners need to benefit from the services provided by TfL. Although my children and I are particularly huge fans of it—there is no greater pleasure than standing on the bridge and watching the tube trains come in and out, and working out which of the bus routes go where—we need to ensure that we provide value for money for all Londoners in how TfL carries out its operations.
At the heart of tonight’s debate is the impact on children and young people of the changes that are taking place and that will take place in the future. London’s local authorities have for a long time had programmes such as the safer routes to school scheme to encourage children to walk or cycle to their local school. There is the home-to-school transport legislation, which sets out a framework of distance around those routes. Of course, in planning the new schools that have been required to meet the rising numbers of children in London, local authorities have always been cognisant of distance to ensure that as far as possible, every mum and dad and every child has access to a good local school.
It is therefore a reasonable challenge to TfL to recognise that a very significant proportion of the journeys undertaken by children are those going to school and are well under the statutory distances. It is a reasonable challenge that transport commissioners need to look at, and they need to ask how, given the difficult times we face and the need to ensure proper social distancing on public transport, we manage that challenge as effectively as possible.
Ultimately, the debate is not about the niceties of the bail-out package. A Mayor of whichever political party needs to show that the fate of London is genuinely in his hands, and that he is willing to take ownership of the challenges that present—whether that is covid, as it is today, or one of the many other challenges our city has faced in the past. The response that comes out of City Hall must command the confidence of all Londoners. The challenge we face at present is that Sadiq Khan comes across as a nice, quite affable chap—he is clearly very good at PR—but he is just not very competent at managing the services and finances in our capital city: not just in respect of TfL, but in so many other regards, such as with the police.
We need to ensure that we bring about a change that ensures that my constituents have a sense that they have a leader in City Hall who can command their confidence, and who understands and is interested in the issues that concern them in the suburbs. That is why we need a change from the mayoral elections when they come up next year.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. For the purposes of the debate, I shall focus on the e-petition, which was about the removal of free travel for under-18s.
The threatened removal of free travel for under-18s caused deep anger and concern not just among young people but across the wider community. It is testament to their campaigning and determination that the Government have backtracked on the demand. When the Government made the demand, I do not think they understood what free travel meant to under-18s. I asked Enfield’s Youth Parliament what free travel meant to them. Tara Larkin, a member of the Youth Parliament, told me that it gives young people a social life and a chance of independence, which is really important for young people’s mental health, especially during the pandemic.
Other members of the Youth Parliament told me that they need free travel to get to and from school and college, to provide care and support to family members, to get to work, to travel for cultural, community and religious activities, and to socialise with friends. One thing that was very clear from their responses was how much they valued this one small benefit that they have. The Child Poverty Action Group found that 37% of London’s children live in relative poverty, and free travel for under-18s is a lifeline for many teenagers.
How did we get to a situation where the Government are ordering the removal of free travel for under-18s in London? Back in March, during the first lockdown, the instruction from the Government was, “Work at home if you can,” and the overwhelming majority of people did just that. In the early months of the pandemic, underground and rail passenger usage plummeted; according to the DFT’s own statistics, that drop was more than 90%. For bus travel, the drop was more than 80%.
During those early days, there was worrying news of committed transport workers who had contracted covid-19 during their ordinary daily work routine, and the sad reality was that for some of them the illness ended in death. People were rightly frightened to use public transport. As bus and train usage plummeted, so did the income from passenger numbers everywhere. Both Transport for London and the national train operators sought help from the Government. We do not know what, if any, conditions were attached to the £5 billion bail-out for the national train operators, because the Government have not released the details of that even to the Transport Committee, but I am pretty sure that those conditions did not remove any perks or benefits from their passengers.
What we do know is that conditions were attached to TfL’s bail-out and we know that, in his letter to the Mayor of London on 14 May 2020, the Secretary of State made a number of demands as conditions of the bail-out. One of those demands was to bring forward proposals “as soon as practicable” for the suspension of free travel for under-18s,
“subject to discussions…about how it is to be operationalised”.
The rationale for that decision was to optimise the use of the available safe transport capacity, but we know from the Government’s own statistics that on the day the letter was written, underground usage was only 6% and bus usage in London was only 13%, so the demands in the letter seem to make little logical sense.
It seems to me that the conditions contained in the letter were ill conceived and poorly thought out. Some people might say that those demands were set out in order to score political points against Sadiq Khan in the forthcoming mayoral elections—I am happy to have that row another time, and there are plenty of months ahead for us to have that contest. But either way, the Department for Transport has failed to understand the reasons why young people use the under-18s travel card.
What would happen? We would end up punishing young people who have already had to endure the Government’s exams and free school meals fiascos, and whose mental health is already suffering due to all the uncertainty surrounding their futures. With negotiations due in the months ahead for a further extension of the Government bail-out of TfL, I say to the Minister, “The kids have suffered enough. Don’t mess around with their free travel. Let the kids have their freedom.”
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. It has been quite amusing to listen to my fellow MPs talking about whether the current or the previous Mayor is more to blame for the current state of TfL’s finances, but there is no doubt at all that whatever decisions have been made by either Mayor in the past, they were made in a pre-pandemic phase. The situation we are in now could not have been anticipated by anybody.
TfL’s income is almost unique in the world for a capital city, in that 80% of it comes from fare income. That is quite unprecedented among capital cities, most of which enjoy a far greater level of Government subsidy. There is no doubt, therefore, that when something such as the pandemic comes along and the instruction is given to Londoners to stay home and not to use public transport, there will be a big impact on finances. Londoners did exactly what they were supposed to do. They stopped using the tube and the buses: the subsequent impact on income has nothing to do with the mayoral policies of either the current Mayor or any previous one. The situation could not have been predicted.
The situation that we are in now is that TfL, not surprisingly, has required a bail-out in order to maintain its services. We need to look forward, not back at which Mayor was responsible for previous finances. What is the plan now for keeping our public transport going in London? In the comprehensive spending review last week, I was disturbed to see that the Government have not budgeted anything in the next financial year for any further bail-outs for TfL.
As I said last week, I am encouraged by the implication that the vaccine roll-out means that we will be back to full capacity on our tubes and buses in May next year, but I am little sceptical about it. I think it is a mistake for the Government not to plan further investment into London’s transport network, because we know that the drivers of the London economy are our cultural industries, our financial services and our retail sector. They have all seen a big hit from coronavirus and, potentially, a big hit from Brexit. They need investment from central Government to get them back up and running, and to get London running again at full speed, as it was before. That investment needs to go into our public transport network.
The point was made by an earlier speaker that the issue is not just about Londoners, but about travellers from abroad. If London is to get back up and running again, it needs to welcome travellers from abroad and it needs the public transport network. I am disappointed to hear from the Government that they plan to finance TfL through tax rises and charges on Londoners. That is what we were told: council tax increases and an increase in the congestion charge.
There was talk of scrapping travel for under-18s to pay for the bail-out. Much has been said about that and there were some excellent contributions from fellow Members. I want to pick up on the point that the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) made in his opening remarks about a potential doubling in car usage. In my constituency of Richmond Park, we do not want to see a doubling in car usage. Car usage is already a major scourge on our roads. The congestion and the impact on air pollution is terrible, as is the way it cuts people off from their local town centres.
My particular concern for young people is the impact on their safety. If there is an increase in the number of cars because they are being driven to school instead of catching the bus, then there is a knock-on impact on road safety. I worry for the safety of those who cannot afford to be driven to school and have to walk long distances, potentially in the dark, as well as the knock-on impact that might have on our policing budget. There are many budget implications for local authorities if we take away free travel for under-18s, which need to be considered alongside any potential savings for TfL.
It would be remiss of me not to use this opportunity to talk about Hammersmith bridge. I am talking to the Department for Transport about its long-term plans for travel in London, but please can we get some movement on this? It is imperative, and it has been obvious from the start, that there needs to be a substantial contribution from the Department for Transport. The sooner it can commit to that, the earlier stabilisation works can be undertaken. The sooner we can get pedestrians and cyclists back over the bridge, to connect my Barnes residents to all the services, shops and transport links on the other side of the Thames, the better.
It is an honour to serve under your chairship, Sir David. I thank the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) and the Petitions Committee for bringing this important debate before us, as London MPs.
I thank the 170,000 people who signed the petition against the scrapping of free travel for under-18s and the 1,156 people from Putney who signed it, showing their support for the issue and for young people. It is rare for the voices of young people to be heard, but that is the focus of the debate today. I also thank all the TfL workers who have worked throughout the pandemic to keep us safe as we travel in London.
The plans to remove free transport for under-18s as part of the Transport for London bail-out package should never have been on the table in the first place, and must now be scrapped forever. We never want to see those coming back. Free travel is essential for enabling young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to travel to school; they cannot just change schools midway because of this policy change. They are already locked into having to travel across London. I declare an interest as the mother of a 14-year-old who uses the free travel to go across London to school every day.
Free travel can be essential for travelling to work or apprenticeships, or to get to places for sport and leisure. To cut off the best of London for the most disadvantaged but not for others is very unfair.
Just before half term, when we were not sure whether free travel would be scrapped, one mother came to me and said that she did now know whether she would be able to keep sending her son to school. Her income had gone down as a result of covid, and she had very tight bills. Like so many other families, she had to choose between food, rent and sending her children to school. For children who are disinclined to go to school—those we most want to get back to school—free travel is absolutely essential. There is no point spending money on a catch-up fund for education on the one hand and then cutting the money for getting to school on the other.
I found the Government’s response to the petition very disappointing. I do not know whether other Members saw it, but it was:
“The suspension of free travel for 11-17 year olds will help reduce demand for public transport at peak times”.
Well, children have to travel on public transport at peak times; that is when school starts and finishes. They cannot stay at home and choose when to travel during the day. That cannot be part of Government policy.
I absolutely support Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, who is right to champion the continuation of free travel for under-18s. He successfully forced the Government to give up their plans to scrap free travel for older and younger Londoners, and their absolutely unworkable plans to extend the congestion charge to the south circular, which I hope never come back to the table. All rail services have been hit by the pandemic. The Government immediately bailed out private rail companies with few strings attached, and the same should have happened for Transport for London. All MPs must work together to understand the needs of young Londoners and ensure that free travel remains.
The very extended closure of Hammersmith suspension bridge—a fantastic heritage structure—is also affecting young people travelling in London. Young people travelling to schools in my constituency and out to neighbouring constituencies across the river and across London are affected by the misery caused by the closure of Hammersmith bridge. TfL was poised to fund it just before the pandemic and there were discussions. Transport for London funding is very important, but now that TfL clearly cannot fund it, the Government must step up and do so urgently. The news that Putney boat race will not be happening in Putney, which was announced just a few days ago, was very disappointing and a huge blow for local businesses.
The closure of the bridge also compounds pollution across Putney. It clogs up our roads and makes trips to school, work and hospitals so much longer. The taskforce has been meeting for 10 weeks without very much task or force. I would really like the Minister to announce a change on that. Hammersmith and Fulham Council has done its best. It has put together a plan, started the restoration and looked into the danger that the bridge is causing, but the issue is becoming a political football. It is very disappointing to see the candidate for the mayoral election announcing funding for the bridge left, right and centre, but it does not appear; it is clearly just hot air. Will the Minister make a lot of people across south-west London very happy and bring an end to the misery of the Hammersmith bridge closure by announcing the funding of the restoration?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I thank the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) for opening the debate and all Members who have taken part in this evening’s discussions.
A number of excellent points have been made about the unfair way in which the Government are treating London. I want to draw the debate back to one particular aspect of that unfairness: the central issue of the risk to young people’s travel. The issue of funding for free transport for under-18s is incredibly important, demonstrated not least by the number of signatories to the petition that led to the debate—more than 170,000 people, the last time it was checked. That is a truly incredible outpouring of support for the “Don’t Zap the Zip” campaign, which has taken social media by storm over the past few months. Londoners past and present have shared their experiences of the scheme, and it is clear that thousands of young people rely on affordable travel in a way that is hard to imagine in some other parts of the country.
Although the scheme demonstrably helps all young Londoners, the reality is that the proposal to suspend free travel for under-18s will hit the poorest hardest. That is especially true in the context of the coronavirus crisis, as many family finances are very stretched. We should all think deeply about that.
Londoners have far less access to a car than most people living elsewhere in the country. Indeed, the most deprived households in London are almost five times less likely to own a car than the least deprived, meaning that affordable public transport plays an especially important part in levelling the playing field and helping all Londoners to get around. A YouGov survey bears that out: 74% of children with a zip card use it to get to school or college, while a further 26% of those surveyed, and more than 36% from low-income families, were concerned that ending the scheme would restrict their access to school, apprenticeship and training options. I am sure we all agree that access to those important services for young people’s development should not be restricted in any way; indeed, it should be encouraged. Furthermore, the same survey found that 33% of children would feel less safe if they were priced out of bus travel, while 38% worried about being late, which is also important.
Free travel is not only about ensuring that children can get to school or training on time and safely; more than half of young people who use the scheme would have relied on it to visit cultural and other activities in central London, and to visit friends and family—all important parts of our shared life in the capital city and around the country. Indeed, if we want families and friends to see one another and reduce social isolation, which is obviously increasingly important during the pandemic and our recovery from it, we should encourage young people to be able to get around in the coming months, as the restrictions are eased. We should also not forget the truly important objective of promoting the use of public transport to reduce air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions, as several Members quite rightly said with reference to their constituencies. Surely, in that context alone, this is a very important scheme.
I have major concerns that Government decisions around TfL funding, including regarding the scheme and for London more generally, are being politicised in a rather sad and unfortunate way, as we have heard. I urge the Minister—she is a thoughtful Minister—to have a word with some of her colleagues about reconsidering their approach, particularly as we recover from the pandemic, when we should be paying tribute to transport workers and their contribution, and about trying to take this whole issue a little bit more seriously.
We should also reconsider—I hope that the Minister will take this back to her colleagues—the effect of the spending review on Londoners. So far as I can see, the review did very little for London at a time when the capital city is under huge pressure. It reconfirmed the Government’s thin commitment to funding Crossrail. I should declare something of an interest, to put it mildly, as a Member for one of those seats that will be a terminus for Crossrail. There is huge potential for Crossrail to be an engine not only for the London economy, but across southern England and out as far away as Oxford, which could benefit the western side, and Kent and Essex as well. I am sure that your constituency would benefit from it, Sir David. I hope that the Minister will look at this again.
Sadly, the Government have been taking the Crossrail project down to the wire, with the investment authority dangerously close to running out of resources. The Mayor has put forward London’s case, but the Treasury does not appear to have listened. Indeed, the Mayor had to fight tooth and nail for weeks against Government Ministers who wished to impose punishing, damaging conditions, as we have heard. I hope that the Government will stop playing politics with London during the pandemic and its aftermath, and that Ministers will think again about their overall approach.
I make three requests to the Minister—I hope that she will take them on board and bring them to the attention of her colleagues. First, the Government should recognise the importance of free travel to under-18s, particularly in supporting education and training, but also on a whole range of fronts—the social and family benefits are significant as well. Secondly, I hope that she will concede that promoting the use of public transport in major cities can play a huge part in tackling environmental problems, as we heard earlier. Finally, as we have all said before, I hope that she will urge her colleagues to rethink their over-political approach to some of these issues and work together for the benefit of London.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David, and to respond to the debate. Before I get into the substance of the debate, I want to echo the tributes that have been paid to Transport for London workers who have kept services running throughout the pandemic. I travel on the tube regularly, so I have seen the great way in which they provide those services.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) for introducing the debate and all Members who have contributed. We have heard contributions from the hon. Members for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter), for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West), for Ilford South (Sam Tarry), for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare), for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous), for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney) and for Putney (Fleur Anderson), and from my hon. Friends the Members for Orpington (Gareth Bacon), for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken), for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) and for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (David Simmonds). It sounds like a tube map, but everyone made excellent points, and it is a pleasure to respond to them all.
First, it must be recognised that free travel for under-18s is unique to London compared with the rest of England. This should not be a debate about the merits of free travel. The Government recognise the merits of free travel for the most disadvantaged under-18s, which is why it is enshrined in the Education Act 1996 and children will continue to receive it.
Today, we are talking about those benefits that are different in London, and are not available to people in the rest of the country, no matter how disadvantaged they may be. It is important to get that point on record at the outset. Taxpayers all over the rest of the country—in Birmingham, Manchester, my Redditch constituency and other places where the need is just as great—do not enjoy this special benefit. They will rightly ask, “Why does London receive this?”
So much for levelling up.
It is dispiriting to hear a Government Minister, particularly when addressing a group of London MPs, once again using divide-and-rule tactics, trying to set other parts of the country against London. Will the Minister address the issues that have come up in this debate and Members’ serious concerns about our constituents?
With respect, I do not think I can give way. I want to address the substantive points, but I will be happy to talk to hon. Members on another occasion.
My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington highlighted in his opening speech the shocking extent of the Mayor of London’s financial mismanagement of Transport for London. We all know that coronavirus has cost £1.6 billion in lost fare revenue, but Mayor Sadiq Khan’s mismanagement of Transport for London’s finances has cost £9.56 billion in the round, and we heard many examples from hon. Members during the debate.
We can all agree that the transport network is key in supporting a safe and sustainable recovery for London. That was why, on 31 October, the Government agreed a second extraordinary funding and financing package with TfL for up to £1.7 billion, on top of the £1.6 billion funding package agreed with TfL in May. That is proof of the Government’s commitment to supporting transport services in London while remaining fair to national taxpayers.
The May funding agreement with TfL contained a series of measures to manage demand and to facilitate safe travel, including a temporary suspension of free travel for under-18s. I stress that that was agreed by the Government, the Mayor of London and the deputy mayor for transport. However, the suspension was not operationalised at the time. No one doubts the importance of free travel. It was always the case that children eligible for free home-to-school travel would continue to receive it, with families on low incomes—those most disadvantaged children—continuing to receive that free travel. It is right to say that the rationale was demand management, as before the covid-19 crisis, around a third of journeys were made by young people travelling to school.
I pointed out in my speech that in normal, pre-pandemic times, TfL raised about 80% of its own revenue. It was not primarily subsidised by taxpayers, so it is not by and large taxpayers who pay for free travel for young Londoners—or, indeed, for elderly Londoners.
I remind the hon. Lady that central Government have agreed billions of pounds of support for Transport for London.
The initial reason for bringing in the suspension, or discussing it, was because it was seen as necessary to ensure that capacity was available on buses for those who needed to use it, including some schoolchildren, given social distancing requirements. At this point, I would like to refer to the Government’s commitment to support cycling and walking, or active travel. People should walk and cycle wherever possible, and that is why the Government have made £2 billion available to support it. According to TfL’s own statistics, the average journey to school in London is less than 1 km, so it is not unreasonable to suggest that some of those journeys could be made by active travel.
As part of the latest £1.7 billion of extraordinary funding agreed by the Government and TfL on 31 October, national taxpayers will continue to fund free travel concessions to standard English levels, and free travel to school for children who qualify under legislation. If the Mayor wishes to maintain concessions for Londoners above the English level, he will raise the money to pay for that. That represents a fair position for the whole country and brings London in line with the rest of England.
In agreeing the recent extraordinary funding and financing package, the Mayor proposed that he could pay for those concessions by retaining the central London congestion charge at its current level and increasing the existing TfL element of the Greater London Authority’s council tax precept. He must make his final choice by January 2021. It is the Mayor who has decided what the increase to the congestion charge should be and what the coverage is.
Several hon. Members raised the question of Hammersmith bridge. They will know that my noble Friend Baroness Vere of Norbiton is working on that and leading a taskforce. TfL has been given £4 million and a further £2.3 million for immediate mitigation, and a lot of detailed work is ongoing to sort the problem out.
Turning to TfL’s financial situation, the Government did agree a second package that will provide financial support until March 2021. The Government will make up the fare revenue that TfL has lost due to covid-19. The deal runs until 31 March, and the Government will continue to monitor TfL’s financial health and work closely with it to ensure that it continues to operate essential services and supports our recovery from the pandemic.
I would also like to put on record the fact that the Government are not forcing the Mayor of London to raise council tax. If he does so, it will be his decision and his alone. The Department works closely with him and constructive discussions are ongoing. Of course, I remind the Opposition that the Mayor of London is a politician, but nevertheless there are constructive discussions going on, as we have seen from the deals that have been agreed, which benefit Londoners and the transport network on which they rely.
As hon. Members have pointed out, the financial package agreed itself recognises that the Mayor of London has not done enough to find savings. His financial management has not been good enough, and further efficiencies must be found. Opposition Members have highlighted the impact on young people, so I must be clear: it is for the Mayor of London to explain to those young people why he has made the choices that will have those devastating consequences that Members are setting out. The Government have stood behind Transport for London to the tune of £2.3 billion. I suggest it is now time for the Mayor of London to take responsibility and show genuine leadership, instead of seeking to lay all his problems at the door of central Government.
Thank you, Sir David, for giving me quite a lot of time to sum up the debate. Hon. Members will be happy to know that I do not intend to drag this out.
I will begin by thanking all right hon. and hon. Members who have taken part in this Petitions Committee debate. Petitions are proving to be a very effective way for people to get in touch with and involved in the issues that matter most to them. I have led a couple of Petitions Committee debates, and they are an excellent opportunity for us to put our constituents’ concerns on record. I thank everyone for turning out to support the petitioners today.
I also thank the petitioners for giving us the opportunity, as the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) said, to discuss something about London. It does not seem that we get an opportunity to do so very often. This has been a rare chance for London MPs to get together to discuss issues relating to the capital, and I am grateful to the petitioners for giving that to us.
We have heard about the impact that scrapping under-18 concessions would have on people in our capital city and its effect on some of the most vulnerable in our various communities. We hope that the Mayor can show the leadership that we need from him, put aside his game-playing—the Minister and, indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Gareth Bacon) described that well—and come forward to the Government with sensible suggestions by 11 January so that, when further discussions take place in March, we will not be back here with the same complaints.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered e-petition 331453, relating to funding for Transport for London.