Bus at North Greenwich station
Transport for London is still struggling for money with reduced passenger numbers

Greenwich Council leader Danny Thorpe has accused Boris Johnson’s government of “bringing a sledgehammer” to negotiations with cash-strapped Transport for London – saying the Conservatives had “finished with Manchester” and were “coming for us”.

The Financial Times revealed last night that the government had threaten to take direct control of Transport for London unless Labour mayor Sadiq Khan accepted higher council tax, higher fares and an extension of the £15 congestion charge zone to the North and South Circular roads, slicing through the borough. Earlier plans to cut free bus travel for secondary school children have been postponed until next year.

Khan called the demands a “triple whammy”, while Thorpe said they would “punish” struggling Londoners – comparing the situation with Greater Manchester, where Johnson refused demands by regional mayor Andy Burnham for £65m in funding to help business affected by tighter lockdown measures.

Here’s the section of Grant Shapps’ letter to Sadiq Khan on October 1, in which he demands the mayor increase the size of the congestion charge as a condition of providing support to London. pic.twitter.com/l9rhESGmf8

— Adam Bienkov (@AdamBienkov) October 21, 2020

“This is absolutely devastating news for us in Greenwich – they are bringing a sledgehammer to our borough and our city in an attempt to score political points,” he said. “They’ve finished in Manchester and now they are coming for us. Playing politics in the middle of a pandemic. It’s a complete and utter disgrace.

“There’s also been no discussion on the congestion charge and clearly this would not only have massive implications in terms of cost but also threatens gridlock as people seek to avoid any charge.”

He said the changes came against a backdrop of growing poverty in Greenwich, where 43 per cent of children already live in poverty, while another 600 have become eligible for free school meals in the last month.

Greenwich’s Tory opposition leader Nigel Fletcher said “it would be wrong” for the Tory government to force decisions upon TfL.

“TfL’s finances have clearly been hit hard by Covid and it is right for the Government to bail them out,” he told the local democracy reporting service.

“In my view decisions on funding priorities should be made solely by the mayor, who is accountable for those hard choices. It would be wrong for the government to make those decisions for him, and I hope a fair deal can be reached on that basis to keep London moving. Political posturing on this issue will not serve Londoners well.”

TfL has appealed to the government for a £5.7bn package to prop up services for the next 18 months after its fare income collapsed during the pandemic. The mayor’s transport agency is largely reliant on fares for its income after the government withdrew its £700m annual operating grant in a deal agreed when Johnson was mayor.

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Lachlan Leeming is the Local Democracy Reporter for Greenwich. The Local Democracy Reporter Service is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
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