Tuesday, January 29, 2008

TfL Blow the Budget

At this morning's budget committee TfL presented their reasons for overspending their consultancy budget by £35 million (which is significant on a base of £130 million). The main items they highlighted in their report were:

London Underground

Expenditure on professional and consultancy fees at £34.8m was £4.1m above budget as a result of additional legal costs of £2.5m relating to claims including Chancery Lane and the Northern Line tripcocks. Operational consultancy was overspent by £2.4m in connection with work to ensure that line upgrades were achieved.

Surface Transport

Expenditure on professional and consultancy fees at £40.8m was £10.0m above budget as a result of the additional requirements for IT and engineering consultancy services particularly for the Tour De France (£2m), Traffic control infrastructure (£2m), TLRN cycling (£3m), Road network management support (£2m) and Road network scheme design (£2m).

London Rail

Expenditure on professional and consultancy fees at £28.9m was £7.0m above budget as a result of the acceleration of the Stratford International Station project as well as legal and corporate finance consultant costs for the refranchise of the North London Railway (NLR). The budget for the letting of the NLR concession assumed that there would be a separate East London Line (ELL) concession, however, during the year it was agreed to include the operation of the NLR and ELL under a single concession agreement.


Expenditure on professional and consultancy fees at £60.6m was £13.6m above budget as a result of additional expenditure on the Business Improvement Programme - primarily new projects to enhance the functionality and efficiencies delivered by the SAP system.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Anonymous Beneficiaries

City Hall largesse has been spread far and wide over the last eight years. The Mayor is sometimes reluctant to tell us who has benefited.

Brian Coleman: Will the Mayor of London list the financial donations made by the Mayor of London for the organisation of the London Peace Reception on Wednesday 5th December, the costs the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the Stop the War Coalition are paying towards the London Peace Reception and will the Mayor of London publish the guest list to the London Peace Reception?

Ken Livingstone: The estimated £5,500 cost for the London Peace Reception is being met from existing GLA budgets held in the international team. Publication of the guest list would breach data protection principles.

Data protection - useful on so many occasions...

Saturday, January 26, 2008

George Galloway is Contemptible

After a long absence on 'infighting leave', Galloway makes an appearance in the Guardian's Comment is Free, telling us why we should support Livingstone. It's all a bit like throwing a drowning man a lead belt, but his diatribe does contain the following:

It seems clear that he (Livingstone) treats the Greater London Assembly with contempt. But that is surely not helped by the fact that most of the members of the GLA are contemptible.

Which, coming from a supporter of Saddam Hussain, feels like high praise indeed.

What have we done to earn George's contempt? Not enough cat impression, perhaps? No appearances on Big Brother? Or maybe we haven't been saluting the indefatigability of tin pot dictators...

Galloway is standing for the London Assembly (it's not even called the GLA, George), so we can look forward to his ill informed comments during the campaign and possibly his tedious company for the next four years. He tells us he will put the Mayor under real pressure...

Yeah, right.

From Venezuela With Love

With the budget under discussion next week, a look at the publicity around the controversial Venezuela deal seems timely:

Roger Evans: How much was the total cost - including design, printing, distribution, and the cost of advertising space - of the Transport for London posters advertising cheap petrol for buses, which includes the branding of the republic of Venezuela?

Ken Livingstone: Promotion of the scheme has used mainly 'broadcast' advertising such as posters, magazines and radio, together with the distribution of literature and 'face to face' activity. Costs incurred to date including media placement and production total £1.1m.

By 'broadcast' I assume he includes this:

Sally Hamwee: A double decker bus running down Kilburn High Road recently had an advert along its side advertising tourist visits to Venezuela. Which organization commissioned this advert and did they pay standard TfL fees for the advertising space?

Ken Livingstone: TfL 'wrapped' two buses as part of the promotion of the discounted fares scheme. The promotional budget for the discounted fares scheme forms part of the administration costs, which are costs payable by Petroleus de Venezuela Europa (PDVE) under the agreement.

Friday, January 25, 2008

If Not Ken, Then Who?

setting aside the wild accusations that Livingstone's current critics are 'neo cons', or even in the pay of Mossad, it is a fact that much of the clamour of discontent is coming from people on the left. Several blog posters have even voiced the unthinkable - who would be the ideal Labour candidate, if they dispensed with Livingstone's services.

So who should they be running? Some of their people drop by here every now and then, so I'm sure some advice would be appreciated - better still, they could tell us themselves.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A Very Short Press Release

Visitors to the http://www.london.gov.uk/ will have become accustomed to lengthy press statements, usually running to two or more pages, worthy texts on climate change, rambling rebuttals of Evening Standard stories - so the latest release is unusually brief:

The BBC last week asked the GLA whether Rosemary Emodi had visited Kamp Africa, a holiday resort in Nigeria. She was therefore formally asked by the GLA whether this was true. She stated that this was untrue and that she had never visited Kamp Africa. The GLA informed the BBC of this. It has now become clear that the formal statement made by Rosemary Emodi was untrue. She has resigned with immediate effect. There is no suggestion any GLA funds were used for this trip. However all GLA staff are required to honestly answer questions put to them.

Further details of this story are available at http://www.bbc.com/ .

Monday, January 21, 2008

Dispatches Alert

I know where I will be at 8:00pm this evening. The much trailled Channel 4 'Dispatches' investigation into the Mayor's office will be on show, and well worth a look no doubt.

Over the weekend allegations that the Mayor was drinking heavily at the Ilford 'Peoples' Question Time' event surfaced. I spent the evening chairing the proceedings and, to be fair, he didn't seem any the worse for wear. Indeed he was much the same as usual, long on rhetoric and short on answers...

The Mayor's office have released a statement claiming that Dispatches is discredited following its film challenging climate change doctrine last year. So now questioning the Mayor is equal to questioning 'end of the world' theories...

Friday, January 18, 2008

Trouble on the 174

Following on from the bus crime league table, the Romford Recorder gives the 174 a mention this morning. Whilst not in the top 10, the 174 which runs between Harold Hill and Dagenham is in the 40 worst routes, along with the 247, Barkingside to Romford service. Problems are reported to include knife attacks, egg throwing, verbal abuse and general rowdiness.

The 174 has also been under performing against its timetable, between Romford and Harold Hill. Councillors and Angela Watkinson MP, have raised complaints about this and London Buses tell me that the service is failing to meet targets. The reason is thought to be congestion in Romford town centre, but TfL have agreed to investigate and bring about an improvement.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Transport Committee Alert

The Transport Committee meets on Thursday morning, fresh from publication of the high profile Crime and Anti Social Behaviour on London's Buses report. We can expect some complaints from Labour members who have had their strings well and truly tugged by Livingstone over this.

On Thursday we will be covering two important subjects:

Roadworks, which seem particularly prevalent at the moment. How can we minimise disruption? How can the utilities be persuaded to plan together and to reduce the time they spend on site? What happened to the government's charging for time trials in Camden and Middlesbrough a few years ago?

And the old favourite, Articulated Buses. Back in October figures revealed a high number of accidents on these vehicles and concerns were aired at a public meeting in Ilford, at which the Mayor said he thought the Transport Committee should investigate. We are happy to oblige and will be considering the statistics.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Bus Crime League Table

TfL have produced a list of the bus routes with the most 'driver incident reports'. They are, from 1 to 10:

38 Clapton Pond - Victoria, new to the top position, up from number 4 last year. Hang onto your bags!

25 Oxford Circus - Ilford High Road, the old faithful slips back from its number one position over the last three years. The committee watched ticket inspectors and police at work on this articulated bus and it was clear that paying your fare was seen as optional by many passengers.

29 Wood Green Station - Trafalgar Square, down from number two last year.

73 Seven Sisters - Victoria, up from number six last year.

51 Orpington - Woolwich, a newcomer straight in at number five this year, and the only one of the top ten running entirely south of the river

149 Edmonton Green - London Bridge, down a place from number five last year, a bendy bus with pickpocketing problems.

18 Sudbury - Euston, holding its position at number seven, another articulated vehicle.

5 Canning Town - Romford, double decker new on the list at number eight, locals have complained about anti social behaviour.

8 Bow - Victoria, much improved from the number three position last year, buses have CCTV and a screen which shows the passengers what the cameras can see.

176 Oxford Circus - Penge, slips back from number nine, the only route in the top ten which crosses the river.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Everyone Agrees That Crime and Anti Social Behaviour are a Problem for Bus Passengers

Except for the Mayor...

This morning sees the launch of a cross party report from the transport committee which focuses on bus crime. Avid bus users will know that the committee has taken evidence from groups representing passengers, transport providers and police. Some of the most damning evidence came from bus drivers who find themselves in the front line of the battle against youth disorder. We also carried out two visits to observe policing on the buses in Bromley and in Stratford.

Two years ago, crime rose sharply and the slight decline over the last year has done little to compensate. This coincided with the start of Livingstone's free travel schemes for under 16s and under 18s, a fact that is dismissed as coincidence by his Labour colleagues.

The committee makes a number of constructive suggestions, including:

Use of live CCTV in situations where the driver has sounded the alarm. This would enable a faster and more effective response.

Considering more powers for revenue protection staff and PCSOs, to make life harder for criminals.

Better training for drivers who have to deal with some threatening situations.

We hoped that the mayor would accept these in the same constructive spirit, but this morning his Labour acolytes were criticising the report and claiming there is no problem - obviously they don't use the buses.

Meanwhile it is good to see that Boris Johnson has supported measures to trial live CCTV.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Gang Murders a Key Issue in May Election

Today the Boris for Mayor campaign comes out fighting with this advert in the Evening Standard. The murder of 27 teenagers last year is a tragedy, but with two more murders already in the first week of 2008, the death rate is increasing, in line with the growth in violent crime.

Boris proposes the wider use of hand held detectors so that police can find knives and guns without the time and bureaucracy required for a physical search. He is also in favour of trialling live CCTV monitoring on board buses, which are viewed as a no go area by some people, following the introduction of free travel for under 18s.

But it's not all about catching criminals. Boris sees a role for community volunteers who do so much good work to keep young people occupied and entertained - without resorting to crime. Some of the current funding for questionable projects could be diverted to support positive activities for young people.

More Problems at the LDA

This time it's the building:

Peter Hulme Cross: Please can the Mayor update me on progress with the faulty wind turbines removed from the LDA head office roof?

Ken Livingstone: The wind turbines were removed due to a product recall. The LDA is pursuing the installation of replacement wind turbines following the re-engineering of the software that controls the wind turbines as soon as possible.

Friday, January 04, 2008

New Year - Same Old Londoner

The January edition of the 'award winning' Londoner has hit the streets. Amongst this month's highlights:

p1 Tackling London's Housing Shortage, fifty thousand new affordable homes for London over the next three years

p2 Single fares frozen this year

p4 £161 million for local transport

p5 Londoners on income support can get half price bus fares

p6 New police teams are tackling crime on buses in London

p7 Strategy to improve training in the capital

p8 Save up to £300 a year by saving energy

p9 Your views about eating and drinking on the Tube (bizarre survey shows that 27% of Londoners want eating sweets banned on the underground)

p10 More new low cost homes for London

p12 Win a place in the London Marathon

p14 Letters to Ken - How are you going to make London greener; India trip will boost jobs in London

Advertising for TfL on three full pages supports this edition, as usual. There are also adverts for Climate Change (?), the Russian Winter Festival, and the LDA's childcare affordability programme.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

One Great Shambles

This was a dreadful first day back for commuters from East London and Essex. The Christmas closure of Liverpool Street Station 'overran' this morning and passengers were being told that services would only run all the way into town after 9:00 am.

My early train was more crowded than usual because a number of other trains were cancelled. At least it ran quickly on an otherwise empty line, terminating at Stratford, with a conveniently empty Central Line train standing adjacent. Everyone raced across the platform in the dark and crammed in, only to find the train setting off Eastward. Yes, the One Great Eastern train had terminated on the Eastbound platform and nobody had thought to warn the commuters who were now going the wrong way!

At Leyton, the next station on the Central Line, it was virtually everyone out and across the footbridge to the Westbound platform. London Underground staff looked on in bemusement as we packed up four deep. The next train was jammed and we returned to Stratford like sardines, only for even more people to squeeze on. All this took place just after 7:00 am, so Lord knows what it was like when the rush hour really kicked in. I was surprised by how good natured the crowds were, or perhaps they were too tired to protest.

And at 9:00 am the promised service did not resume. Perhaps we can expect more of the same tomorrow.

This incident highlights two of the problems that repeatedly bedevil our rail network above and below ground:

Project Management: They so often overrun. Rail engineers need to improve their ability to predict disruption and to ensure that timetables are adhered to. The impression all too often given by engineering professionals is that passengers are an obstacle to running the service rather than the reason it exists in the first place.

Information: Nobody saw fit to tell passengers what was happening. There was no guidance at Stratford, which I understand was closed because of overcrowding later in the morning. There was no warning at Liverpool Street underground station to tell people that the main line platforms were still closed when I returned home in the afternoon - resulting in an optimistic but fruitless trek up the escalator and back down again.

Hope that 'One Great Eastern' sort their act out overnight - and now we hear there is snow on the way...

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Collier Row Action Day

New Year started with an action day in Romford, delivering around 2,000 leaflets to homes in Collier Row and Chase Cross. We got a positive reception and hope for a good level of responses to our survey on page two of the double spread newsletter. Romford Conservatives are looking forward to the London campaign and the opportunity to remove Labour's Mayor from City Hall.