Boris Johnson’s GMB interview: fact checked

3 May 2022
What was claimed

Boris Johnson introduced the 24 hour Freedom Pass.

Our verdict

As Mayor of London, Boris Johnson did change the Freedom Pass so it applied 24 hours a day on most services, although he did not introduce it originally. Following a bailout deal between Transport for London and Mr Johnson’s government in 2020, it no longer functions 24 hours a day.

What was claimed

The UK has the fastest economic growth in the G7.

Our verdict

According to the latest data, the UK had the highest growth in 2021 among G7 nations. However this is partly due to a technicality concerning how the UK measures GDP, which increased the apparent scale of both the fall and the recovery. The UK’s economy has shrunk by about 0.4% since the start of the pandemic, making it the fifth best performing among the G7 nations.

In an interview on Good Morning Britain this morning, Boris Johnson was warned by interviewer Susanna Reid: “There are fact checkers at every stage of every interview who will go through your answers with a fine-tooth comb.”

She was entirely correct. Let’s look at three claims the Prime Minister made which could use a bit of extra context.

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“Just to remind you that the the 24 hour Freedom bus pass was something that I actually introduced”

Ms Reid described the plight of Elsie, a pensioner who uses her Freedom Pass to stay on buses all day to avoid paying for heating. The Freedom Pass is a scheme for discounted travel for older people in the capital. 

Mr Johnson didn’t introduce the Freedom Pass, which has been paid for by London Councils since the 1980s, and not the Greater London Authority, which is headed by the Mayor of London.

He did, however, make the Freedom Pass apply for 24 hours per day (except on some national train services) in early 2009.

As Mayor of London, Boris Johnson also restored free bus travel for Londoners when they reached 60 back in 2012, as part of the 60+ London Oyster photocard scheme. This was in response to the government raising the age of eligibility for a Freedom Pass in line with the state retirement age for women

While the Freedom Pass and the 60+ Oyster photocard used to grant holders free bus travel for 24 hours a day, they no longer do.

Since June 2020, holders of the 60+ Oyster photocard and the older person’s Freedom Pass have no longer been entitled to free weekday bus travel between 4:30am and 9am

This is due to the terms of a bailout deal struck between Transport for London and Mr Johnson’s government. London Councils said the new restrictions on the use of the Freedom pass and the 60+ Oyster photocard would also “help conserve space on public transport for people who need to use it to return to work.”

“When it comes to delivering better value for services, lower council tax[…]you should vote for Conservative councillors on Thursday”

The Prime Minister said that for lower council tax people should vote for Conservative in Thursday’s local elections. 

While this itself isn’t a direct claim, the PM has previously claimed that “Conservative councils[...]charge you less”. In Parliament last week, Mr Johnson noted that Conservative-controlled Westminster Council has lower council tax than Labour-controlled Islington and Camden, saying: “That is the difference between Labour and Conservative across the country”.

Single-tier Conservative councils in England actually charge more per household (£1,580) than the average council (£1,388) and more than Labour councils (£1,261). (These calculations don’t include two-tier councils as tax rates are difficult to compare by party, because different parties may control different tiers.)

Rather than using the average council tax, in previous local elections the Conservatives have compared band D rates to claim Conservative councils charge less than Labour councils. 

Using this measure, which compares the tax charged to homes of similar value, the average band D household in single-tier Conservative areas in England is charged £1,280, less than both the national average (£1,515) and the average in Labour areas (£1,551). 

This reflects the fact that Conservative areas have more expensive housing than Labour, meaning that their band D rates are lower while their average rates are higher.

Regardless, there are many reasons why council tax might vary between Conservative and Labour areas, reflecting the different services those areas need to provide.

“Because of the steps this government took during the pandemic to get us out of the pandemic in a strong way with the fastest economic growth in the G7.”

The UK’s GDP growth in 2021 of 7.5% was higher than for any other country in the G7 (a group of advanced world economies including Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the USA).

But this partly reflects a quirk in how the UK measures GDP compared to other countries.

GDP includes public services. During 2020, when many public services were restricted or shut down, the UK recorded a big fall in the output of public services. But other countries didn’t measure the output of public services, just how much was being spent on them.

Because spending on those public services remained relatively unchanged, other G7 countries saw their GDP fall by less than the UK (9.4%) in 2020. The ONS estimates that if you measured UK public services as other countries did (by how much was spent on them) the fall in UK GDP is broadly comparable to other G7 countries.

But that large fall in 2020 meant that the UK could also have a large recovery in 2021 when various public services resumed at closer to normal operating levels.

Over the course of the pandemic, the UK’s economy shrank by 0.4%, making it the fifth best performing among the G7 nations.

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