The Tory candidate for London Mayor has criticised Sadiq Khan for “failing” to provide PPE for TfL staff, and for the transport body’s financial struggles.
Forty-two TfL staff have lost their lives to Covid-19, including 29 bus drivers, though it is uncertain how many of those staff caught the virus at work.
Mr Khan’s rival for next year’s postponed Mayoral election, Shaun Bailey, said: “I would definitely have given PPE to our train and bus staff. Masks and gloves.
“He’s rode in saying it’s the Government’s fault. He should have been providing staff with PPE. He has failed.”
It comes as Mr Khan announced that he has hired University College London to conduct a review of the transport staff fatalities.
Mr Bailey – one of the London Assembly Members tasked with holding the Mayor to account – appeared to have slim chances of beating Mr Khan at the 7 May election. Polling in March suggested Mr Khan had a significant lead.
But the 49-year-old from North Kensington, who co-founded a youth charity and was a special advisor to David Cameron, has been capitalising on the immense difficulties facing TfL since the pandemic.
Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Mr Bailey also argued it was a mistake to “cut” London Underground services, despite high levels of staff sickness or needing to self-isolate during March and April.
“I would never have cut the capacity for the Tube,” he said. “We should have been redeploying people from night shifts to days. I said that at the time.”
To enable social distancing at train stations during rush hour, he suggested Met Police officers should have been deployed to “marshal queues”.
“It wouldn’t have been that hard, but none of these things were done,” Mr Bailey said.
The Mayor’s Office said British Transport Police have been directing queues, and it said the reduction in rail services was due to high levels of staff sickness.
A spokesman said: “Sadiq is doing absolutely everything possible to keep heroic transport staff and passengers safe. All frontline staff – including bus drivers – have as of last week been offered face masks.
“However, current advice from scientific experts is that PPE is not required in non-care settings and could even be counter-productive.”
Also at the top of Mr Khan’s agenda is TfL’s financial woes. The organisation has accepted a £1.6 billion Government bailout to cover lost fare revenue, reportedly worth £150 million a week. Fares became TfL’s main source of funding after the Government stopped its £700 million annual grant in 2017.
But Mr Bailey believes the Mayor has himself to blame for the causes of TfL’s financial crisis, claiming they predate the pandemic.
“When he came in, in 2016, Sadiq Khan was warned not to do some of the things he did, like the fares freeze,” Mr Bailey said.
Then there’s the problems blighting Crossrail, the Essex to Berkshire underground rail project that began in 2009 and is three years behind schedule – now due in 2022 – at nearly £3 billion over budget.
“Crossrail is going to be three years late. It would have given us £1.3 billion of fare income, so Sadiq has a real cashflow problem,” said Mr Bailey.
There’s also the lost revenue TfL would have acquired from renting retail space at 41 Crossrail stations, including 10 brand new stations.
“Fast forward four years, TfL was going to need a bailout anyway,” Mr Bailey added.
We put it to Mr Bailey that what’s happened to Crossrail is typical of big infrastructure projects. Take HS2, The Garden Bridge, or Heathrow’s third runway, as examples.
“The difference between Crossrail and those projects, is none of those ones had properly started,” he replied. “Crossrail was meant to be finished.”
So what could a Conservative Mayor have done, from 2016, to have kept Crossrail on track?
Mr Bailey said: “When Sadiq came in he reviewed everything to do with Crossrail. But he didn’t spot any of the problems, why didn’t he pick up any of these massive problems in the reviews?”
He continued: “Sadiq created an environment where… people weren’t paying attention and messages weren’t being passed up.”
Because of the headache from Crossrail “fares will have to be higher”, Mr Bailey said. “But when Sadiq Khan came in he chose to make himself look good [by freezing fares] rather than do the right thing.”
It was confirmed last week that bus and rail fares will now increase with the rate of inflation +1%, as one of the terms of the Government’s bailout.
Responding to Mr Bailey, a spokesman for the Mayor said: “Despite London being one of the only major cities in Western Europe without a Government grant for day-to-day transport operations, Sadiq ensured that TfL was in a strong financial position prior to the pandemic – reducing its operating deficit by 71% and increasing its cash balance by 16%.
“The cause of the acute financial challenges now facing TfL and all other transport operators is Covid-19. Fare income has fallen by around 90% as a result of lockdown.”
Last year MPs on the Public Accounts Committee heavily criticised Crossrail Ltd – which is wholly owned by TfL, for the delays. The MPs said its board had “failed to understand the complexity and risks involved in the programme, failed in its management of its main contractors.”
The Mayoral election will be held in May 2021.