Livingstone sticks to his transport guns

11 Jan 01
London Mayor Ken Livingstone has vehemently rejected suggestions that he is about to agree a compromise with the government over its controversial plans to partially privatise the Tube.

12 January 2001

He dismissed reports that he was going to soften his stance on Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott's plans to split up the stations and infrastructure and sell them off to private companies under a public-private partnership.

Livingstone also said suggestions that the new transport commissioner for London, Robert Kiley, who took up his post on January 8, would sack 2,000 London Underground staff was 'a straightforward lie'. And he rubbished rumours he would accept a seat on the board of any management company set up to oversee the proposed arrangements.

'What you hear about deals are lies,' he said. 'We will continue to oppose this with every means at our disposal.'

Addressing a rally against the PPP jointly organised by rail unions Aslef and the RMT, Livingstone also gave his personal backing to the unions' decision to ballot members on strike action.

Union leaders are bitterly opposed to the sell-off, expressing fears about safety, and 10,000 ballot papers were due to be distributed to London Underground workers on January 11. On the same day, Livingstone and Kiley were set to launch a public consultation on their draft transport strategy for London.

The mayor gave strong backing to the planned industrial action and urged union members to be 'public spirited' and support a yes vote. 'If I was a tube worker I would be voting for this action and I salute those who do,' he said. 'I will join them on the picket line.'

His comments will be seen as an attempt to increase the pressure on the government to scrap its scheme in favour of a bond issue, which is favoured by Livingstone and Kiley. Under their plans, £10bn would be invested in the Tube over the next 15 years, with £6bn coming from government grant and increased revenues, £2bn from the private sector and £2bn from the bond issue.

TUC general secretary John Monks, also speaking at the rally, said it was vital to stop the break-up of the Tube system to prevent a repeat of the mistakes made with the railways' privatisation. 'I'm not against taking in private money,' he added. 'But we don't want a diffuse ownership system with confused responsibilities as far as safety, management and staff are concerned.'

But London Underground managing director Derek Smith rejected claims that the PPP would lead to lax safety standards. 'It may be politically convenient to paint this picture, but it is irresponsible,' he added. 'Our safety record is strong and everyone at London Underground is determined to keep it that way.'


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