View from City Hall: Boris, Londoners need more

News Desk (04 November, 2020)

'The chancellor’s decision to extend the furlough scheme was welcome, but long overdue'

34310Florence Eshalomi, MP for Vauxhall and Southwark and Lambeth assembly member

The disastrous failure of the government’s test, trace and isolate system and their dither and delay leaves us with little choice, but to go into a second lockdown.

With the winter beginning to bite and the days getting shorter, this will be a tough time for our community, but we will get through it by coming together and sticking to the rules.

The chancellor’s decision to extend the furlough scheme was welcome, but long overdue. He must now confirm the details of what further support will be made available to businesses and venues about to close their shutters once more, so they can plan ahead and survive through the Christmas period.

It has been great to see the chancellor lift the self-employment income support scheme to 80 per cent of profits, but all of these helpful measures are being announced in a piecemeal way which have impacted the ability of business leaders to plan ahead.

Londoners on lower incomes will be also worried about what the latest lockdown means for their finances. We must see the boost to Universal Credit made permanent and for the suspension of the minimum income floor to be kept in place.

In more positive news, I was delighted to see the government recently come to its senses and drop its proposals to extend the congestion charge to the North and South circulars and remove free travel concessions for under 18s and older Londoners.

This was down to the campaigning efforts of not just City Hall, but also charities, business leaders and Londoners.

Transport for London have now received further emergency funding from the government, but this will only last until April.

As we enter a second lockdown, what we should have seen was Ministers agreeing to a long-term and sustainable financial package for London’s transport services. This would help to boost the economic recovery of our capital, and indeed the whole country, whilst securing the future of key transport infrastructure projects, such as the Bakerloo Line extension.

The transport secretary says he can’t give TfL a ‘blank cheque’ to cover the whole scale of its financial challenges, but he gave an eighteen-month blank cheque to private train companies at the start of the pandemic.

Instead, ministers expect already hard-pressed Londoners to pick up the tab for some of the remaining funding gaps TfL continues to grapple with. During the first lockdown, TfL lost 90 per cent of its fares revenue and with passenger numbers remaining low, it many faces obstacles going forward.

Before Covid-19 hit, we know that Sadiq Khan had reduced the operating deficit at TfL, that Boris Johnson passed onto him by 71 per cent, and had increased its cash balances by 13 per cent. This is despite the fact that in 2018, the government cancelled the £700m annual operating grant that it used to give to TfL.

If the government continues to short-change transport services in London, it is essentially punishing Londoners for doing the right thing and staying away from public transport where possible.

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