Boris was down in Chiswick for the eighty millionth time today – I strolled down to see what he was doing, having picked up whispers on the Twitter grapevine (rumoured to be the favoured information source for out-of-favour journalists to find out what Boris is doing on the campaign trail, indeed). He had his Battle Bus parked, engine running, by Marks & Spencer and was talking to a man holding a TV camera surrounded by a small crowd about 1/3 of whom appeared to be Conservatives in big blue rosettes and the rest idly interested locals, many taking photographs.
Anyway, I had a very specific question to ask, rather than a photo op, so I marched in without asking permission (there were none of the rumoured ‘heavies’ around) and asked him pretty much straight out why he came to office with a Piccadilly Line upgrade date of 2014 and was seeking re-election in Chiswick, where we’ve been waiting for our Piccadilly stop forever, with the date pushed out to 2025 and why are we paying higher and higher fares for the same crowded service?
He recognised me this time, as we were about 400 yards from our previous encounter, although as usual when surprised he lost the ability to string enough words together to describe what was in front of him (I modestly suggested ‘expert’ would describe me). The result was that he spent a few moments fruitlessly waving his hands at the cameraman trying to explain who I was, without success. As to the substantive point I, of course, got no answer – in fact I’m increasingly of the opinion that Boris genuinely knows virtually nothing of what’s going on at TfL – he just repeated the mantra ‘it’s important not to cut’ as if reading off a script. It’s not as if my argument doesn’t have an obvious counter, in fact I deliberately asked the question leaving the counter open (he should have said ‘I inherited an upgrade programme under Tube Lines that TfL assessed to be unworkable and we have been making tough choices to get the project into a deliverable form Londoners can trust’ or something). Nothing, just the mantra and repeated attempts to turn the conversation into a discussion of Ken’s fare cuts. That of course made it easy – I just kept asking him why we’re being asked to pay more for a delivery delayed 11 years. No answer.
Up close Boris looks about ten years older than he is. Grey faced, too (that may just have been me) and, as ever, monstrously unattractive in the flesh. I’ve never understood the Boris charm, as you’ll know, but seeing him now I’m wondering if anyone else does, really, beyond the BORIS IS A LEGERND 15 year olds and people who haven’t seen him since he was last on Top Gear. Certainly Twitter didn’t have a lot of ‘Met Boris in Chiswick what a gent’ going on, and the crowd was, as I’ve said, smallish. Didn’t feel like a mainstream candidate which either means they’re super confident or the campaign is as big a trainwreck as some of us have suspected for a while.
Anyway, not getting an answer I went and bullied the three people standing waiting at the bus stop – the bus, R-registered, was parked with its hazard warning lights on and engine idling, right opposite the Chiswick High Road air quality station. I took in a good lungful of the fumes coming out of the back, marched up to them and demanded they turn the engine off, which to their credit they did. There wasn’t even a driver in it.
So, that’s Boris’s detailed knowledge of the reasons for his high fare policy blown apart and his commitment to air quality demonstrated not to extend even as far as his own campaign bus. TfL have a campaign against people who leave their vehicles idling while parked. Perhaps we should point this in their direction?
P.S. The Battle Bus (photo below taken by @Mr_Pukeko) turns out to have an interesting history for such a knackered old heap – it was originally registered in 1997 as 97-D-356 [PDF] with Dublin Bus and spent its career in Ireland until 2010 when it was registered R271LHK, which it carries today under the ownership of something called the HATS group, in Wimbledon. It would appear possibly from this antique vintage that it might not be LEZ compliant and thus Team Boris are driving it around London at the cost of a couple of hundred quid a day into TfL coffers and a substantial amount of air pollution. Why on earth does Boris associate himself with such a thing? Did someone just ask for an ‘Olympian’ (which is what it is, albeit a Volvo one – Scandinavian airports, anyone?) and didn’t check it for condition?
So, who are the HATS Group? Their website appears to be a badly proof-read company called Health And Transport Services based in Wimbledon, south west London. This bit is a bit of a giveaway, mind:
Additionally, we are acutely aware of the financial constraints under which the public sector is now expected to operate. In the current climate, and in the undoubtedly trying times which are set to follow, we will operate in partnership with our public sector partners to assist them in their continued ambition for cost savings. We believe in the implementation of continued and sustainable efficiency gains whilst ensuring that service levels either improve or remain commensurate. This philosophy has enabled Cost Pressure Improvements and cash releases to take place on a regular basis.
Outsource sharks, then. In fact they are the trading name of a company called ‘Olympic South Limited‘ who quite apart from anything else are going to find a visit from the Olympic brandname polizei with subversive naming behaviour like that. They’re based in Kingston. More to the point, the name is instantly familiar to readers of Private Eye after they were awarded a lucrative contract to transport disabled school pupils by Tory Croydon council, which was subsequently stripped from them in messy circumstances that included resignations:
Olympic South Ltd did hold the largest coach and minibus contract with Croydon Council, worth £5.2 million over four years.
The firm has now been reduced to providing a handful of taxi routes after the contracts were re-tendered following an inquiry into how they were awarded.
Wimbledon-based Olympic South was appointed as the main provider of the council’s Passenger Transport Service when the service was outsourced to save £250,000 in August 2009.
So, another triumph for the outsourcing agenda furthered by the election of, well, politicians like Boris who believe the ‘efficient private sector’ hype but don’t do the detail. How lovely and cosy. It’s also yet another (essentially) cab company found in proximity to the Boris campaign, after Addison Lee, of the famous bus lane and cyclist self-immolation the other day. They gave Boris £25k in 2008. Who paid for the Battle Bus?
The name Henry Bilinski crops up a lot in connection with this, and that’s unique enough to be worth Googling. We find him mentioned in, of all places, the Daily Mail in 2007, in connection with (Tory) RBKC closing a day centre to which David Cameron’s disabled son Ivan was driven by OSL:
In a speech last year, the Conservative leader hailed the couple as unsung heroes, saying: “They’re not just drivers, they’re carers, helpers and friends to all those whose lives they make easier.”
The Ingrams claim they were summoned to a meeting last month by their employer, Olympic South London (OSL), which is contracted to provide ambulance drivers for Kensington and Chelsea Primary Care Trust.
They say they were told by OSL’s finance manager Henry Bilinski to expect to be made redundant shortly.
David Cameron, Leader of the Opposition, praising the efforts of dedicated care staff, who are then sacked. That would never happen with him as PM, surely?
Finally it’s also interesting to note that all but one of Bilinski’s Directorships are in companies set up since the 2010 election, all named with variations on Boris’s bus supplier HATS and many, in my judgement, in a good position to gain from the outsourcing of public services, particularly NHS ambulance but also school disabled pupil transport services. How also very cosy. They are:
- HATS (H2S) formerly HATS (SEN) who are therefore probably ‘Home to School’ for disabled children
- HATS (PRIVATE HIRE) formerly HATS (PCO) who would be minicabs. PCO is Public Carriage Office, of course, prop. Boris Johnson
- HATS (PTS) who might be ‘Passenger Transport Services’ – bus company?
- HATS (CONSULTANTS)
- HATS (ACCIDENT MANAGEMENT)
t’s interesting how the disabled are seen by the right as simultaneously scroungers out for your taxes and a good source of public sector cash for thrusting entrepreneurs, isn’t it? How cosy.
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