Speaking on the London segment of today’s BBC One Politics Show, Theresa Villiers MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, today continued the Tories’ talking down of the prospects for the Cross-River Tram.
The programme first gave a bit of background to the CRT scheme, and featured some distinctly positive quotes from Boris in support of the plans, from during the Mayoral election campaign. Could it be – surely not – that Boris was saying what people wanted to hear, purely with a view to getting elected? I know, I know, it’s hard to believe, but in light of his colder-than-lukewarm comments in recent weeks about the CRT, it’s a fair question – and one which the Politics Show presenter put to Theresa Villiers.
Faced with repeated opportunities to offer general support or any reasons to oppose it, Villiers only had one thing to say. She repeatedly made the point that “Boris has a financial headache” because of “this Labour government” forcing the Public-Private Partnership arrangement onto London (oddly she didn’t mention the fact that it had been Boris’s predecessor who’d fought against this, nor did she mention that Boris had criticised Ken for having “wasted money” by doing so during the election campaign!).
It recently emerged that in addition to the failure of the Metronet part of the PPP, which the government picked up the tab for in a deal negotiated under Ken Livingstone, the Tube Lines part of the deal now has a black hole of around £1bn which needs plugging by someone on the Public side of the PPP fence. (Don’t ask me how these things work – the impression I have is that any profits go to the Private side while any shortfalls go to the Public side, but I’m sure that can’t be right… can it?)
Given copious time and space to suggest any number of reasons why CRT might not go ahead, Villiers only had this one: the £1bn shortfall, caused by Labour, would inevitably have to be picked up by Boris (no faith in his negotiating skills, Theresa?), and this would use up all the possible money that could have been spent on CRT.
If the Tube Lines black hole really does provide the perfect excuse for reneging on an election pledge you didn’t want to keep and blaming the other side for your having to do so, it’s pretty hard to see any incentive for Boris to want to try and get the £1bn back from central government, as his predecessor did with the £2bn lost by Metronet. And if he doesn’t try to get the money from the Treasury, that’s another £1bn drained from TfL’s coffers, making the fare-rise-necessitating black hole he’s built up so far look like peanuts by comparison.
On the other hand, of course, if Tube Lines is bailed out by central government, Villiers offered no other reasons whatsoever not to proceed with the Cross-River Tram, so residents of Peckham could presumably look forward to having decent transport links for the first time at last. Unless – perish the thought! – the Tories find some way to move the goalposts and invent another excuse not to proceed.
I await developments in this area with great interest.
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