TfL’s Business Plan and Budgets – Financial Profligacy

The Mayor of London has published a Business Plan for TfL for the next five years plus a Budget for 2018/19– see https://tfl.gov.uk/corporate/publications-and-reports/business-plan. The Business Plan is much as outlined in his adopted Transport Strategy so he aims to get the proportion of journeys taken by walking, cycling or public transport up to 65% by 2024 when it’s about 63% today. That’s despite the recent lack of progress in achieving that goal as highlighted in our previous article on London travel trends here: https://tinyurl.com/ybtchctj

For east Londoners he is committing to progress that vanity project called the Rotherhithe bridge, but there should be new Woolwich ferry boats delivered in 2019, progress on the Silvertown Tunnel and the document mentions a budget for “renewal” of the Rotherhithe Tunnel.

But the bad news for all Londoners is that the Mayor intends that TfL will continue to run a big financial deficit until 2021. That date does of course coincide with the expansion of the ULEZ zone to the North/South Circular which will be providing more income and also the Elizabeth Line (Crossrail) should also be in operation by then which will also assist. There is a small surplus budgeted for in 2022/23.

Another item of bad news for all Londoners is that “proactive” street maintenance budgets will remain at zero so we will see more short-term and reactive patching. This is surely a short-sighted financial approach. Has the Mayor not heard of the phrase “a stitch in time saves nine”.

The delays to Crossrail and falling bus usage have been two causes of the short-term deficits but the Mayor continues to hobble himself with the promise he made to freeze public transport fares so as to get elected. The Mayor claims to have reduced “like-for-like” operating costs in the last two years but that is a claim that is difficult to verify and overall income/costs are what matter.

One consequence of this financial ineptitude is that TfL are having to borrow more money. Debt has been, and will continue to rise rapidly based on the budgets. It will be 175% of revenue in 2018/19 (revenue not profits note), and financing costs will be 7.5% of revenue in that year. That does not look like a sound financial strategy to anyone familiar with the financial world. The Mayor is just in the process of building up a big problem for his successor.

What is remarkable about the two aforementioned documents is the lack of detail on where the Mayor is actually spending money, e.g. the proposed capital expenditure. We just get headline titles such as £116 million to be spent on “Healthy Streets”, £80 million on “Air Quality”, £114 million on “Public Transport”, etc. There is also little detail on operational income and expenditure. The budget for 2018/19 has to be approved by the London Assembly and there is a bit more detail in this version submitted to them: https://tinyurl.com/y78cjoyq

So for example it shows (on page 37) that the introduction of the ULEZ (for central London only in 2019) will cost around £40 million. But the revenue from it seems to be just dumped into “other income” so it is impossible to evaluate the cost versus benefit of it.

Here are some simple questions one could ask that are not answered by these documents such as:

  • How much money is being spent on Cycle Superhighways, Quietways and other cycle projects?
  • How much does the Santander Cycle Hire scheme cost to run, or does it make a profit? What is being invested in expansion of that scheme?
  • How much is TfL spending on funding wide-area 20 mph schemes in local boroughs?
  • What will be the real costs and income from the ULEZ, both before and after expansion?

There is simply insufficient detail provided to answer these questions. These documents do not provide enough financial detail to judge the merits of the Mayor’s plans at all. One suspects a lot of dubious projects and expenditure are being concealed in these public relations documents.

But there is one thing for certain. There is no budget to improve the road network in London so as to increase capacity and reduce traffic congestion. With London’s population expanding, that is a serious omission.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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