Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Transport Planning

Today's Transport Committee heard from Peter Hendy and TfL Board member Christopher Garnett. The main subject was TfL's business plan which was unveiled yesterday, but there was a chance to catch up on other matters too.

Hammersmith Flyover

Peter Hendy criticised a BBC story as 'mendacious rubbish'! The Inside Out programme claimed that TfL ignored reports of structural weaknesses in the Hammersmith Flyover and that they should have closed the road to traffic earlier. Peter told us that the story was based on a report which envisaged possible risks and responses, rather than identifying a specific danger. He had written to the local MP, outlining his concerns but was reluctant to pursue the BBC over their flawed story, as they already had other problems to deal with...

Financial Settlement

TfL's settlement from Government is good for two and a half years. The committee were concerned that such a short term might jeopardise TfL's plans. Peter stated that the plans are secure but continuing short timescales would make it difficult to agree terms with suppliers and would prevent major commitments. Long timescales also allow negotiation of procurement rates which are more competitive.

TfL are continuing to work well with DfT despite the recent reshuffle which saw the departure of London based ministers Justine Greening and Theresa Villiers. Peter noted that the train builders are located close to the new Secretary of State's Derbyshire constituency, so he was optimistic that the minister would be positive about capital investment in London's transport.

We discussed other ways that TfL might raise revenue. They have the largest advertising contract in Britain which brings in much needed cash. They are also looking at sponsorship opportunities as well as ways to develop land profitably. Crossrail stations will include space for retail outlets which will allow for some rental income. Boris had suggested exporting TfL expertise during his visit to India. With growing cities planning to introduce mass transit, Peter Hendy could see a lucrative market for these skills, but not at a price of denuding London of its own experts.

TfL Board

Christopher Garnett is retiring after six years on the board. He explained how Livingstone's 'rubber stamp' has evolved into a much more hands on board, with members taking more detailed interest in the decisions and workings of the organisation. We wished him well for the future.

Industrial Action

Tony Arbour provoked heckling from the Labour members when he suggested introducing a participation limit on votes for industrial action. Peter Hendy said he shares our frustration at the large numbers of ballots for action, usually characterised by low participation, and leading to stories about strikes which then don't materialise. He praised the enthusiastic work of TfL employees but criticised their union leadership for failing to represent their members. However he noted that the Government are not keen on promoting industrial relations legislation so things are unlikely to change any time soon.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Riots Rematch

This morning's Budget Committee saw the return of the insurers for a rematch over their response to the 2011 Summer Riots. The committee recently produced a set of recommendations intended to improve the response to such incidents, and the Association of British Insurers disagreed with some of them.

First we heard from Stephen Webb of the Home Office. They had identified shortcomings in the ancient Riot (Damages) Act, and are planning a medium term review of this legislation. In particular the failure to include motor vehicles - which didn't exist when the Act was passed - and consequential losses for business, would be reviewed. The application forms will also be improved and tested for Plain English.

Then the insurers arrived for what promised to be a scrap but turned out to be a damp squib.

The ABI welcomed a call for clearer guidance for claimants and plan to produce a document based on their successful flooding guidance. They will be working with local councils and some of the claimants, but it is unlikely that the Riot Damages Act will be overhauled in time for their publication, so the guidance will have to be reviewed and updated in future.

Disappointingly, there will be no advice on suitable insurance products. A shocking number of claimants from 2011 found themselves uninsured so some clarity about products is needed. Claire Kober, the rather impressive leader of Haringey Council, pointed to some businesses which were difficult to value. A local jeweller experienced fluctuating stock value as the price of precious metals changed. Gold prices had soared, leaving the stock significantly under insured when the riots took place.

In producing the new guidelines, the insurers would also consult the Cabinet Office.

The last word went to Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse. He told us that disasters would continue to affect London but that it was difficult to predict their nature - be it floods, terrorist acts, or riots. A degree of flexibility and a willingness to work with the private sector and local communities will always be essential in such a large and diverse city.