Black taxi by Angel Abril Ruiz
Taxicards allow people who find public transport difficult to have subsidised cab journeys (Photo: Angel Abril Ruiz via CC BY 2.0)

Wednesday night at the council: Greenwich Council leader Denise Hyland angrily lashed out at local Tory leader Matt Hartley in a town hall row over planned cuts to London’s Taxicard scheme, branding him “emasculated”.

The row blew up at Wednesday night’s council meeting, when Hartley asked Hyland if she would raise the issue with London mayor Sadiq Khan.

It ended in Hyland attacking Hartley for admitting that she was more likely to get a response from the mayor than he was.

Taxicards offer Londoners who would struggle to get around on public transport subsidised cab journeys. Transport for London, which Khan chairs, is planning to cut funding for the scheme by 13% next year.

This follows past funding cuts under Boris Johnson’s mayoralty. TfL budgets are now squeezed by both central government cutting its funding completely and Khan’s own partial fare freeze.

Hartley claimed other London Labour councils had made representations objecting to the cuts in the scheme, and asked Hyland if she was planning to join them, linking the cut to the partial fare freeze. (Watch here)

On Tuesday, Conservative Home reported that Ealing Council leader Julian Bell had complained about the cuts, pointing out they could leave boroughs – which run the scheme – open to legal challenges.

The website also reported other Labour councils’ anger with TfL cuts in general.

In response, Hyland said: “I would remind you that Boris Johnson spent £50 million on an airport that never happened, and £40 million on the Garden Bridge, never happened, did it?”

Jabbing her finger, she said: “Don’t you give me lectures about schemes from the London mayor because actually, Sadiq Khan is doing an awful lot for London and he is dealing with the kind of cuts that we are having to deal with as a Labour council – £120 million of cuts from central government.

“I’ll look into the Taxicard scheme, but y’know, you cannot sit there, basically, and blame the cuts on the mayor of London.”

‘I must be hearing things’

Hartley raised the matter again, and received an angry response from Hyland.

“I must be hearing things, because we have a Conservative party sitting there who are able to read and write,” she said, jabbing her fingers again.

She shouted: “If you want to write to the mayor, you write to the mayor.”

Later in the meeting, Hartley tried a third time.

“It’s the mayor’s budget. It’s his decision to fund his so-called fare freeze. It’s not about central government. This is about the mayor, his budget, and his decision,” he said.

“Is any Labour member in this cabinet actually willing to stand up to their Labour mayor? The idea that I write to Sadiq Khan, I guarantee he is more willing to listen to Councillor Hyland than to Councillor Hartley. Is that a policy, that we are not even raising these things?”

Hyland responded: “You asked the question, I answered it, I said I would look into it. You constantly come to this chamber and ask us to deal with the failings of your government.”

‘Actually, nobody listens to us’

Jabbing her finger again, she continued: “You sit there, and then you jump up out of your seat and say ‘will you write to the minister about this’, about a failed Tory policy.

“And here we go again, you want us to do your concerns for you. If I find that there are concerns, on behalf of the people this borough, of course I will write. But why haven’t you written and copied me into your letter?

“Are you admitting to being completely emasculated? Because if you are, we’ll put that on every leaflet that we go into the next election with. Tories completely give up and leave it to Labour to do all the canvassing and lobbying of the government and mayor because ‘actually, nobody listens to us’. You’ve said it tonight, we’ll print that, thank you.”

Greenwich Council meetings are often bad-tempered affairs, but Wednesday’s meeting was tetchier than most.

Both Hartley and Hyland got key facts wrong in their arguments, though. Hartley wrongly claimed council leaders had publicly spoken out against council cuts, when in fact it was correspondence from cabinet members leaked to Conservative Home.

Hyland wrongly claimed that not a penny of vehicle excise duty is spent on London roads – while this will be the case from 2020 when it will go to a roads fund for England outside London. At present the cash simply goes into general taxation, and TfL still receives an operating grant from this until next year.