Shaun Bailey’s comments on the congestion charge lack context

30 July 2020
What was claimed

It was the Mayor’s choice to raise the level of the London congestion charge in response to a bailout package offered by the government. The government had only asked the Mayor to bring forward proposals to raise the charge as a bailout condition, not to actually raise the charge.

Our verdict

While this is technically accurate, it is misleading to suggest that the Mayor could have simply brought forward proposals, kept the charge as it is, and still receive the bailout. The government’s bailout for TfL was conditional on TfL “urgently bring[ing] forward proposals to widen the scope and levels of these charges.”

“By deciding to increase the Congestion Charge, @SadiqKhan put politics above London’s economic recovery after Covid.

Mr Mayor, just reverse it.”

Shaun Bailey, Conservative party candidate for Mayor of London, 19 July 2020

“The Government asked for proposals. He just did it, no consultation, no proposal at all.  It was his choice to do this.  And I'll reverse it on day one.”

Shaun Bailey, Conservative party candidate for Mayor of London, 19 July 2020

The claim from the Conservative mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey that the Mayor of London took the decision to raise the congestion charge needs context. 

Following the loss of income during the coronavirus pandemic, Transport for London (TfL) asked for a bailout from the UK government. One of the conditions of the bailout was that TfL “urgently” bring forward proposals for increasing the congestion charge.

The congestion charge was then raised.

Mr Bailey’s suggestion that the Mayor could have simply put forward the proposals to raise the congestion charge, but not actually enact those changes, while still receiving the bailout, is misleading. 

Why did TfL need a bailout?

Following the national lockdown, TfL, which runs most of London’s public transport, saw its revenues drop considerably.

London Underground usage dropped to as low as 4% of usual levels and bus usage dropped to as low as 16% of usual levels before TfL stopped collecting bus fares, and thus bus data, on 17 April.  

The Mayor, Sadiq Khan, told BBC Radio London back in late April that TfL was asking the government to intervene, warning that it could run out of money to pay staff.

The government offered a bailout of up to £1.9 billion in May with Transport Secretary Grant Shapps setting out the terms in a letter to Mr Khan.

These included TfL resuming normal services, which had been temporarily reduced and introducing some policies to manage demand and raise revenue including temporarily suspending free bus travel for over 60s during peak hours, suspending free travel across TfL services for under 18s and reintroducing the congestion charge. 

The charge had been temporarily suspended in March to support key workers. The government’s bailout condition called for the charge to be reintroduced and for the Mayor to “urgently bring forward proposals to widen the scope and levels of these charges.”

The congestion charge was then raised from its pre-pandemic level of £11.50 to £15, and now operates for a longer time period and at weekends. TfL has said this is a temporary measure. There are additional reimbursements for vulnerable people and certain charity and local authority workers. NHS staff travelling for work were already exempt. 

On Twitter, Mr Bailey has said the “government asked for proposals” regarding the congestion charge but “it was his choice to [increase the charge].”

While this is technically accurate, it is misleading for Mr Bailey to suggest, therefore, that TfL could have proposed a rise in the congestion charge, and then kept the fee as it was, while still receiving the government bailout under the terms set out. 

Mr Bailey has also claimed that the Mayor’s consultation on the increase ran for too short a period, or that there was no consultation. The consultation appeared to run for around five days between 1 June and 4 June.

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