After weeks of hype and speculation, the “long term funding settlement” between the Government and Transport for London (TfL) finally arrived and, to no one’s surprise at all, turned out to be neither “long term” or a “settlement”.
The deal runs until March 2024, just 18 months, barely the blink of eye in the scale of the long term capital investment horizons required by major infrastructure providers such as TfL. And rather than settling the disputes over how public transport in our capital city will operate and be funded it sets up numerous conflicts for the future.
Some sections are purely spite driven; paragraph 11.e of the document sets out that if London is to keep free travel for under 16’s and those aged 60 to 65 then “the cost will not be met by HMG” (the Government), but neither can TfL use “borrowings, savings, service changes, the new revenue streams” to cover the cost. It is a straightforward attempt to strip young Londoners of badly needed travel concessions while avoiding the blame for doing so.
Paragraph 22 says that Government money must not be used for the introduction of the London Wide Ultra Low Emission Zone. The quality of the air that Londoners breath is far less important to the Transport Secretary than making sure that he has plausible deniability on a policy that may be unpopular with Tory voting car owners.
There is of course some red meat for the Daily Mail readers. Our old friend “driverless trains” are back. It doesn’t matter how many times transport experts point out that the idea makes no sense, or TfL patiently explains that the business case doesn’t stack up, they must commit to “further studies and wider research”. Rather like in a children’s story, the Government seem to believe that if you spread some fairy dust and just wish hard enough, the trains somehow will start to drive themselves and all those nasty trade union members will just disappear.
But while they may wish hard, they won’t actually fund the infrastructure that would be needed for driverless trains. There is no money for new signalling on the Piccadilly line or for new rolling stock on the Bakerloo or Central lines to replace the current fleet of trains that is quite literally falling to pieces.
Much play is made of the plan to reform staff pensions. It has never been clear to me just why the Tories hate the idea that working people should be able to have a decent retirement income after decades of employment. The TfL pension scheme is a good one, something everyone deserves, but it is no sense “generous “or “gold plated”. And no matter how many options or proposals are put forward, the Pension Scheme Rules are clear that “the benefits payable, or prospectively payable to any person” can only be altered by a “resolution of Members at a General Meeting”.
Any attempt to change the pension benefits members receive will mean an industrial, legal and political fight that will last much longer than the current Government.
As well as their hatred of working people having a decent retirement, and despite their hypocritical rhetoric of praise for front line workers and a high wage economy, the Tories also oppose people actually getting decent pay rises. So the settlement says that future pay rises for TfL staff “must follow public sector pay guidance” while not actually saying what that guidance is!
To be very clear on this; the trade unions were not party to this agreement, we will not be bound by its terms. ASLEF will submit our pay claim next year, in line with our national policies and based on the RPI rate just as we have done in previous years. And we will fight just as hard as we have done in previous years to get a fair deal for our members.
Transport Secretaries come and go. We are unlucky enough to have one at the moment who is particularly gifted with a combination of incompetence and arrogance. Whether he stays in his current role or is replaced by a true beliver of the new regime, our focus as a Trade Union will remain the same, protecting the interests of our members today and for the long term.
ASLEF District Organiser