Friday, 27 January 2012

Cutting fares is easy if you cheat

On Wednesday we had the chance to get a glimpse of how Ken Livingstone was going to cut fares if he were to be elected. The Labour Group's John Biggs proposed their amendment to Boris Johnson's budget and this was seconded by Val Shawcross, Livingstone's nominee for deputy Mayor, who said that the figures were “Sourced from TfL documents and have been checked and approved by GLA officials”. It promised, amongst other goodies, the election pledge of cutting 7% off fares.

In order to pay for this, Labour found a whopping £190 million which they describe as “Anticipated unbudgeted surplus estimates”.

Wow! They've found £190 million of free money which no-one else spotted! Good on you! Look at page 18 of the quoted report and sure enough those figures are there.

So how did everyone else miss it?
Well, they didn't. Page 1 of the report contains the following explanatory note.

A lot of accountant-speak, but the phrase “Details will be included in the TfL's budget submission to the Mayor's Budget for 2012/13 – 2014/15” must have been a hint? That £190 million is already taken account of in the Mayor's budget so no amendment can spend it again. With this budget, Livingstone would get into office with a massive £190 million shortfall in his plans for TfL and a tough decision on how to pay for it - perhaps cutting the Safer Transport Teams who have made London the safest public transit system on the planet? perhaps slashing the investment programme that aims to make our transport system safer and less congested?
Anyway, we shouldn't be surprised by Livingstone's grasp of finance. Figures showing a shortfall of £159 million in estimates of the LDA's Olympic Land Debt were suppressed prior to the elections when he was last in power in 2008.
If Livingstone gets back in - expect more of the same.