By Milly Skriczka, development manager
As taxpayers, we should not allow the coronavirus to prevent us from holding the representatives responsible for spending our money to account. With a total budget of a whopping £9.7 billion, TfL (and their boss, the Mayor of London) are no exception. Furthermore, today, TfL has been handed a £1.6 billion bailout from central government, on the condition that it’s financing and structures are reviewed.
In the current crisis climate, it is inevitable that as passenger levels have dropped considerably, the number of TfL staff essential to keep reduced services on London roads, buses, trains, including underground and overground, and trams has been affected. To this end, Sadiq Khan announced that 7,000 staff are to be furloughed at a cost of many millions to taxpayers.
Of course, given the reduced numbers taking public transport, furloughing may have been the best decision for TfL’s finances. But the Jobs Retention Scheme is still funded by taxpayers’ money. Unlike the vast majority of public servants, who have not been furloughed and with some working night and day to deliver much-needed services, TfL staff will be downing tools. Taxpayers will be paying thousands of transport workers to sit at home, on the express understanding that they should not do any work.
Why is TfL taking up this option when most others are not? Why is it the case that despite its massive £9.7 billion annual budget, TfL has had to seek out a billion pound bailout just to keep trains running until September? We cannot help but wonder whether a more frugal approach to the spending of taxpayer money over the past four years would have left them less dependent on government furloughing now. With better, more focused spending, taxpayers get better and more resilient services for lower taxes. But two areas of TfL’s budget stand out as especially unnecessary burdens on London’s taxpayers.
Last year, the mayor spent millions on ‘diversity’ staff at TfL. There were a stunning 30 staff members earning over £50k with the word ‘diversity’ in their title, along with 34 whose job description featured the buzzword ‘inclusion.’ These are generally not frontline functions So how many of these ‘diversity’ staff are viewed as non-essential and therefore have now been furloughed? This is not just a question of the coronavirus crisis; Londoners want their politicians doing everything they can to alleviate the real pressures on the transport system and, crucially, to keep their taxes down.
As soon as the current crisis is averted, an audit of all TfL staff should be carried out. It must always be remembered that it is taxpayers and commuters who pay for every salary and pension. If among the thousands a number of TfL non-jobs have been furloughed, then why are these roles required in normal times?
Family Travel perks
TfL staff enjoy two “nominee passes”; essentially free travel for themselves and another family member. Bus drivers and some TfL pensioners can also claim free travel. It is estimated a total of 52,000 passes are currently in use, worth approximately £44m per year to their users. Why should, in addition to sometimes very generous remuneration (such as with tube drivers), all TfL employees should be automatically entitled to these perks? Furthermore, it‘s worth asking if these travel perks are subject to tax for the family member and a benefit in kind to the employee.
TfL’s funding comes mainly from fares income - £4.9bn in 2018-19. TfL free travel perks mean staff and their nominees aren’t contributing to this at all. But significant amounts also come directly from tax revenues that all Londoners have to pay. In 2020-21 TFL will receive £2 billion in City Hall grants, including £968.2 allocated from retained business rates. Remember, business rates are in effect a tax on everyone who pays for any goods or services, because businesses will always pass the cost onto the consumer. They are hitting high streets hard, all across London. Commuters should not be hammered, council tax bills hiked and shops shut down to pay for TfL nice-to-haves.
It is vital that taxpayers’ money should be spent wisely and the TaxPayers’ Alliance will continue to fight our War on Waste and hold the mayor, along with other local and national leaders, to account. Never was there a truer refrain than ‘look after the pennies, and the pounds will look after themselves’. Perhaps the challenges faced by TfL during this crisis will finally cause the penny to drop with the mayor.