Chris Grayling just blocked TfL's plan to take over London's railways

Chris Grayling does not want London to take back control. Image: Getty.

Wow. This isn't good.

From today's Evening Standard:

Sadiq Khan’s bid to take over London’s suburban railways was halted in its tracks today.

(...)

[Transport secretary Chris] Grayling formally rejected Mr Khan’s proposal to take over Southeastern services from 2018, which would have been the first step towards Transport for London taking charge of all services up to the capital’s boundaries.

(...)

“Right now I think the last thing our railways need in London is deckchair shifting without a clear sign that there is something better on the other side,” said the Transport Secretary.

Take a look at what you could have won:

That map was produced by TfL, on the mayor’s instructions. But it wasn’t some cynical lefty power grab: the administration of the last mayor, Boris Johnson – a Conservative – was plotting something similar.

Grayling says he's not ruling anything out for the future (hmmm). His argument seems to be that he doesn't see why Transport for London would inherently do a better job of running London's rail services than a private rail firm.

Perhaps this represents a distrust of the public sector (Tories gonna Tory). Or perhaps it’s a recognition of the fact that many of the problems facing London's suburban lines have nothing to do with who runs them, and everything to do with history and track lay out.

Or perhaps it's politics red in tooth and claw. Placing more lines in the hands of TfL means placing them in the hands of a Labour mayor. And...

Mr Grayling warned of a potential conflict between London’s needs and those of passengers from Kent and East Sussex, because long-distance and local trains share the same tracks.

“If you live in Guildford where’s the democratic accountability?” he asked. “Why should the Mayor of London be responsible for a train from Guildford or Dorking?”

...hmmm. Aren't those... Tory constituencies?

It's difficult to feel good about this. While there are some very good rail franchises out there, there are also some that give the distinct impression that they worry more about their shareholders than about getting commuters to work. Which, in their defence, they are legally required to do – hence, I'd rather have a body with London's interests at heart setting the terms of their contract.


But apparently we're not going to do that. I'm sure Chris Grayling has his reasons.

One thing that does slightly baffle me about this, though. At the moment, if the tube breaks, responsibility lies ultimately with London's mayor. When a rail franchise breaks, responsibility lies ultimately with the secretary of state for transport.

Grayling has just made it clear that he'd prefer to remain personally responsible for the running of Southern Rail.

Well, it's a position.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook

 
 
 
 

Two east London boroughs are planning to tax nightlife to fund the clean up. Will it work?

A Shoreditch rave, 2013. Image: Getty.

No-one likes cleaning up after a party, but someone’s got to do it. On a city-wide scale, that job falls to the local authority. But that still leaves the question: who pays?

In east London, the number of bars and clubs has increased dramatically in recent years. The thriving club scene has come with benefits – but also a price tag for the morning clean-up and cost of policing. The boroughs of Hackney and Tower Hamlets are now looking to nightlife venues to cover these costs.

Back in 2012, councils were given powers to introduce ‘late night levies’: essentially a tax on all the licensed venues that open between midnight and 6am. The amount venues are expected to pay is based on the premises’ rateable value. Seventy per cent of any money raised goes to the police and the council keeps the rest.

Few councils took up the offer. Four years after the legislation was introduced, only eight local authorities had introduced a levy, including Southampton, Nottingham, and Cheltenham. Three of the levies were in the capital, including Camden and Islington. The most lucrative was in the City of London, where £420,000 was raised in the 2015-16 financial year.

Even in places where levies have been introduced, they haven’t always had the desired effect. Nottingham adopted a late night levy in November 2014. Last year, it emerged that the tax had raised £150,000 less than expected in its first year. Only a few months before, Cheltenham scrapped its levy after it similarly failed to meet expectations.


Last year, the House of Lords committee published its review of the 2003 Licensing Act. The committee found that “hardly any respondents believed that late night levies were currently working as they should be” – and councils reported that the obligation to pass revenues from the levy to the police had made the tax unappealing. Concluding its findings on the late night levy, the committee said: “We believe on balance that it has failed to achieve its objectives, and should be abolished.”

As might be expected of a nightlife tax, late night levies are also vociferously opposed by the hospitality industry. Commenting on the proposed levy in Tower Hamlets, Brigid Simmonds, chief executive at the British Beer and Pub Association, said: “A levy would represent a damaging new tax – it is the wrong approach. The focus should be on partnership working, with the police and local business, to address any issues in the night time economy.”

Nevertheless, boroughs in east London are pressing ahead with their plans. Tower Hamlets was recently forced to restart a consultation on its late night levy after a first attempt was the subject of a successful legal challenge by the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR). Kate Nicholls, chief executive at the ALMR, said:

“We will continue to oppose these measures wherever they are considered in any part of the UK and will urge local authorities’ to work with businesses, not against them, to find solutions to any issues they may have.”

Meanwhile, Hackney council intends to introduce a levy after a consultation which revealed 52 per cents of respondents were in favour of the plans. Announcing the consultation in February, licensing chair Emma Plouviez said:

“With ever-shrinking budgets, we need to find a way to ensure the our nightlife can continue to operate safely, so we’re considering looking to these businesses for a contribution towards making sure their customers can enjoy a safe night out and their neighbours and surrounding community doesn’t suffer.”

With budgets stretched, it’s inevitable that councils will seek to take advantage of any source of income they can. Nevertheless, earlier examples of the late night levy suggest this nightlife tax is unlikely to prove as lucrative as is hoped. Even if it does, should we expect nightlife venues to plug the gap left by public sector cuts?