Sunday, 9 May 2010

Bozza puts Gordon, Dave, Nick and Ken in the shade

Gordon, devoid of credibility and popularity, crept back to Downing Street after the election and squatted inside Number 10. His arch rivals David and Nick busied themselves in their secret 'coalition-building' meeting around the corner at Admiralty Arch. 

Meanwhile, back at his City Hall ranch, our beloved mayor Boris took advantage of the power vacuum and the media's distracted attention. Neither the Prime Minister nor the Tory leader were watching Bozza as he slipped out an announcement that Transport for London was going to buy Tube Lines, the ailing Private Public Partnership (PPP) set up by Gordon to upgrade London's creaking and overcrowded Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly Lines. 

Boris promises Londoners that TfL 'will complete the delayed Jubilee Line upgrade quickly, ending the horrendous inconvenience of weekend line closures. Boris promises that upgrading of the Northern - infamously tagged the 'misery line' - will also be completed without the vast amount of weekend line shutdowns that Tube Lines, a consortium of Ferrovial and Bechtel, had requested. Boris promises that new, faster and more frequent trains will arrive sooner 'in-house' with TfL rather than later and late with Tube Lines.

In this sense, it's BoZo and not his rival David who has removed the PPP, one of the most unpopular legacies of Gordon's reign. Ken, Boris' predecessor as mayor, had tried to KO Gordon's PPP in the courts but failed. BoJo is now bagging the political house points.

Boris, possibly rightly, thinks this move will raise his own popularity; but the bigger question remains - how can TfL afford the £310 million price tag for Tube Lines' shares, owned by Ferrovial and Bechtel? Can TfL find the money through efficiencies and savings achieved during the upgrades themselves? 

Might Boris and TfL at some point have to squeeze the money from other parts of TfL's budget? It's a budget already being squeezed. Boris and TfL's board are already implementing a business plan designed to save more than £5 billion up to 2017/18. 

True, Boris' decision to buy Tube Lines has put Gordon, Dave, Nick and Ken in the shade. But will Boris end up robbing Peter to pay for Paul?

Paul Coleman, London, May 2010

Photo: London Underground's Westminster station (courtesy TfL 2005)

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