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The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) national steering committee has called on London Mayor Sadiq Khan to stand up to the Tory government and refuse to carry out any more cuts, as a new funding crisis faces the city's Transport for London (TfL) authority.
TUSC has consistently argued that local authorities have the potential power to compel the Westminster government to provide the necessary funding for decent public services. And, sitting at the centre of the city's arteries, there is no more powerful local authority than TfL, led by the London Mayor - if only there was the political will to fight.
"The coronavirus pandemic has drastically reduced TfL's finances, but not society's need for a reliable, accessible and safe public transport system for London. For example, TfL transports a quarter of a million children to school every day. How would the city function without that service?
"In May the government provided emergency funding for TfL but that runs out on 17 October. Now TfL is saying that it needs £1.83 billion to cover fare revenue losses and other costs to maintain safe, socially distanced services to March next year, and a further £2.94 billion for 2021-22.
"TUSC supports the call for the government to fully fund TfL. It is an outrage that, because TfL no longer receives a regular operating grant from central government, it has become more reliant on fares income than any other major transport authority in the world.
"But lessons must be learnt from the deal agreed in May. Then, unfortunately, London Mayor Sadiq Khan blinked first, suspending the Zip Card allowing free or discounted travel for under-18s and use of the elderly Freedom Pass at busy times, and hiking fare rises above inflation. This time he must stand firm for funding without any strings".
"Our union's policy is clear. We are calling on the government to fully fund TfL and London Underground. Passengers should not suffer a cut to services. Those who rely on free travel should not pay for the crisis in TfL funding.The aim of improving the accessibility of public transport in London must not be sacrificed either.
"And workers who have kept the tube and other transport services in London moving throughout the Covid pandemic must also not be made to pay for the crisis through attacks on their jobs and conditions".
Dave Nellist concluded: "TUSC's analysis of the TfL accounts shows that, like other authorities, it has the ability to maintain spending through using borrowing powers while fighting for proper government funding. The mayor has a choice. He does not have to accept government demands for cuts or fare rises to keep the tubes and buses running. Following the replacement of Jeremy Corbyn by Keir Starmer as Labour leader, TUSC has agreed to resume contesting elections against Labour politicians who go along with austerity measures. It's time for them to stand up to the Tories - or face the prospect of a challenge at the ballot box by those that will."
TUSC has produced regular information on local authority finances including a comprehensive briefing document - Preparing a No Cuts People's Budget (2016) - detailing how councils' reserves and borrowing powers could be used to produce arguably legally compliant no-cuts budgets (available at tusc.org.uk/txt/355.pdf).
With an average debt maturity profile of 18 years, and identifiable future revenue streams in a post-Covid landscape, TfL is well placed to use its 'unsupported borrowing' powers to maintain a statutorily required balanced budget and avert a possible Section 114 'technical insolvency' notice while negotiating for government support. Cuts are not inevitable. The London mayor has a choice.
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Article dated 14 October 2020
The Socialist, weekly newspaper of the Socialist Party
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