Just before Christmas, Transport for London published their proposed Business Plan for the five years to 2022/23. See http://content.tfl.gov.uk/fc-20171205-item10-draft-business-plan.pdf for the details, but what follows is a summary, with some comments.
The foreword by Mayor Sadiq Khan contains the usual whinging from him about the lack of central Government subsidy and his budget difficulties. It is true that TfL no longer receive a central Government grant for operating subsidies, but that was agreed by Boris Johnson on the basis that they would obtain extra income from the new Elizabeth line. There are still substantial capital grants though.
The Mayor is of course suffering from his self-imposed hair-shirt by promising to freeze public transport fares in London when campaigning to get elected. He has implemented that, at least as far as TfL controlled fares are concerned. He even goes so far as to say that this “will put £200 back in Londoners’ pockets by 2020”. Surely he is confusing stopping increases (which mainly covered inflation), with reducing fares?
TfL’s latest budgets are particularly constrained by a reduction in forecast public transport revenues. Bus usage for example has been falling, so revenue growth is anticipated to be lower than expected in previous budgets. Bus operating deficit was £599 million in 2016/2017 but will rise to £632 million this year and be has high as £647 million in 2022/23. These are enormous numbers.
Looking at the Financial Summary (page 30), shows that overall TfL will show an operating surplus before “capital renewals” and “financing costs”. After the latter they are running big deficits up until 2020/21. This is what one might term “political presentation of finance data”. Cash flow was negative to the tune of £1,353 million in 2016/17 and it only really becomes positive 4 years later. For someone with experience of looking at the finances of organisations, as this writer has, this looks a very unhealthy financial profile.
One result of this financial plan is that the Mayor is cutting funding for road maintenance that goes to local boroughs. This will not necessarily affect minor road maintenance but it will mean cuts to major projects. Part of the reason is because a lot of the money is going to support cycling initiatives, the redevelopment (pedestrianisation) of Oxford Street and other major projects that are mainly in central London.
Local boroughs are likely to be very unhappy with the cuts to funding of Local Implementation Plan (LIP) programmes, particularly as projects tend to be planned years in advance so abrupt changes in funds available may mean a lot of planning work is wasted.
The lack of major renewal work on roads will surely cause the proverbial “stitch in time” to come true. It will lead to expensive short-term fixes, and more major work in due course if proper maintenance is delayed. For example, bridges often require substantial work after many years of use and that cannot be deferred forever.
Big projects that are consuming the funds are more cycle superhighways, Vauxhall Cross, Wandsworth Gyratory, the Silvertown Tunnel and the Rotherhithe to Canary Wharf bridge (which I commented on negatively as regards its’ financial wisdom in a previous blog post).
The Mayor and TfL are complaining that the cost of operating and maintaining London’s roads of up to £350m per year are effectively being cross-subsidised by public transport fare payers and they need some of the money raised from Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) to pay for it. This is nonsense. The Mayor has very substantial income from business rates and other sources (such as congestion charging) – these more than cover the costs of operating and maintaining the road network.
All that is happening is that the Mayor is choosing to spend large amounts of money on cycling, on his “healthy streets” projects, on expensive remodeling of gyratories (past ones have introduced congestion where none existed before), on massive subsidies to bus travel when nowhere else in the country does this take place and while removing budgets from local London boroughs. This is not a formula that will please Londoners who understand what is happening, nor improve TfL’s financial position.
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