Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, is being challenged by several of his Labour colleagues in the capital over proposals to sharply reduce the funding for the Taxicard scheme. Taxicard allows those with serious mobility difficulties to travel in designated licensed London radio taxis at a reduced rate. It is to help those who find using public transport very difficult or impossible – such as the blind or those unable to walk. It is jointly funded by the London Boroughs and Transport for London – but TfL proposes to cut its contribution.

Cllr Julian Bell, the Labour leader of Ealing Council, has written to Val Shawcross, the Deputy Mayor of London for Transport, to protest. He says:

“As you know we are concerned about the impact of budget cuts on vulnerable service users served by the Taxicard scheme. The proposed cut of 13% reduction in 2018/19 and a 1%, 0% and 3% increase in the level of Taxicard funding in subsequent years represent significant real terms cuts to services, taking account of inflationary fares increases. This will have a direct impact on service users, some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in London. It will mean fewer journeys or a lower level of subsidy for disabled people using Taxicard.

“I also understand that the proposal has not yet been the subject of an equalities impact assessment. Given that all Taxicard users have ‘protected characteristics’ as defined by the Equalities Act (2010), TfL has a legal duty to undertake an equalities impact assessment in respect of a change in service for such users. We would strongly suggest that TfL proceeds in a manner that does not leave it open to legal challenge. I also note that the Mayor, during his election campaign, offered his continued support for the Taxicard scheme. The scale of cut proposed would appear to undermine this statement of support.”

Bell also objects to TfL cutting LIP (Local Implementation Plan) funding for the boroughs. This is money for local transport improvements. Bell says:

“TfL’s Business Plan in December 2016 committed to protecting LIP funding at the same levels as the previous Mayor for the next five years, which we welcomed. We were assured of the understanding by the Mayor and TfL of the critical delivery partner role that the London boroughs and City of London play in delivering the Mayor’s Transport Strategy on streets and neighbourhoods in particular.

“According to our most recently received information from TfL colleagues, the headline funding cut for LIP is a 4.8 per cent total reduction over the next five years, but includes a 22 per cent reduction in 2018/19. This is compared to the 2016 Business Plan and stripping out the funding provided for Oxford Street. That is an important and transformational project but should not be used to obscure significant cuts to boroughs overall.

“The in-year cuts to funding in this financial year (2016/17) are completely unacceptable. Boroughs have developed their programmes in consultation with TfL on the understanding that the funding for 2017/18 was confirmed. Likewise boroughs have just submitted their plans for 2018/19 which now prove to have been a waste of time and resource, as the interim year settlement for 2018/19, the remaining year before the boroughs start to deliver the Mayor’s new transport strategy in earnest, has also changed and is the year with the most severe cuts. I expect TfL to provide considerable resource to the boroughs in renegotiating their programmes in the short timescales remaining before April 2018.”

A pretty stinging rebuke you might think. But a note I have seen of some of the other comments to Shawcross, from her Labour colleagues, makes Bell sound rather restrained.

Cllr Clyde Loakes from Waltham Forest said:

“Timing is the main issue… we have started progressing schemes on this – a matter of weeks ago we were signing off – I am shocked – you have hung us out to dry – you have slapped us in the face – whoever thought that this was a tactic of deploying doesn’t have a role in tfl anymore – now on top you’ve told us about significant cuts to mini Holland’s too – how do you expect us to deliver? And then say oh don’t worry we’ll give you the money back next year, it beggars belief – if TfL was a borough it would be a failing borough – at first opportunity you’ve cut us off at the legs – then bus cuts too which I’ve found out about through local campaign groups.”

Cllr Daniel Anderson from Enfield:

“It’s a kick in the teeth you’ve taken away from us significant money we’ve lost loads of money you promised us re mini Holland’s, we are losing over a million pounds – delivery is compromised – it’s inconceivable that you didn’t see this earlier – it’s appalling – the trouble now is trust and we now have to question can we trust you on anything – we have a problem going forward – what’s the point of a transport strategy we’re doing the upmost to deliver on – we have serious concerns that contracts we’ve signed with you.”

Cllr Feryal Dermici from Hackney

“Our roads are already in a terrible condition how do boroughs go forward with a patching job on this one. On buses we don’t find out about cuts until a few days before it happens, we get consulted and then it just happens with no response.” 

Cllr Claudia Webbe, Islington

“We were one of the boroughs that had a call from Val – a limited number of boroughs had a call  – we know that isn’t fair or transparent – re  the LIP we are less affected due to the fact we are smallest borough and receive least amount. We’re going to lose around £150,000 much less than some larger boroughs but we’re coming from a deficit position in the first place.

“I think it’s disingenuous of Val to come along and say it’ll be protected, we have secured our budgets locally in public, and based on that promise, and now have to go back and change the promises that they made.

“We need also to understand what is happening to cycling. How can we deliver healthy streets agenda with this cut – how is London going to look.”

Cllr Graham Henson,  Harrow:

“All of us have been setting our budgets, they were based on what Val said to us and to suddenly get a letter to say we’ll lose over 70,000 in road maintenance is a huge shock. – all your plans talk about modal shift biggest change in outer boroughs – how can we encourage public transport when it’s being removed.”

Cllr Nick Draper, Merton

“Really disappointed – it’s not what you’re giving us it’s what you’re not giving us – we all budgeted in good faith and spent Officer time and now we’re throwing all out of the windows – this will mean redundancy – chucking things at the last minute  – we expected better from you. You should give us a fair amount of notice – in Merton we plan ahead four years we know what we’re going to do, this sort of thing is just ridiculous, truly awful – it brings shame on the Mayors office. I don’t want angry rebuttals I want an apology.”

Cllr Stuart King, Croydon

“Absolute concern and dismay about the way this has been done; were used to having to deal with difficult financial decisions – we feel we deserve better from tfl – it isn’t good the engagement we have had or might have, it seems insincere at the moment.”

All this is in the context of a TfL budget that is increasing in terms of current spending (which includes the Taxicard funding). I suppose when it comes to LIP funding the Mayor could point out that capital spending generally is being cut. However it does show how anti localist the Mayor is. The regime at City Hall is becoming ever more arrogant and power-grabbing. Of course the duplicitous and chaotic way the cuts are being brought in is also an unforced error.

A higher ratio of the money available should go towards small practical measures that suit the particular priorities of each borough. There should be greater responsibility left with the borough councils. If residents don’t like what results, they can vote out the councillors. Also while the spending by the highways departments in our town halls may be inefficient – that of Transport for London with its layers of officialdom is in another league.

Labour councillors across the capital feel betrayed by the Mayor of London. They are entitled to be angry. Transport for London is failing to deliver value for money. Whatever lavish spending it devotes to “stakeholder consultations” in reality it behaves in an unaccountable manner. The buck for that stops with Mayor Khan.