Boris and Arnie’s romantic bike ride.

31 03 2011

I really have nothing else to add to what the Mayor of London has been up to today.

Oh, apart from Arnie’s view that Boris is great and green:


Is 20p okay to claim on expenses?

31 03 2011

I understand that City Hall could impose a minimum expense limit on senior staff and politicians after it was revealed some have been claiming for items costing as little as 20 pence.

Several assembly members and GLA employees have questioned whether it is right that people on often very high salaries should be able to make such small claims.

Measures to be considered could include a ban on claims below a level of around £5 or if those already claiming for a publicly funded season ticket or travelcard can legitimately ask for additional travel expenses.

Documents released by the GLA show that between November 2010 and January 2011 travel claims included one for 20 pence made by Assistant Director of Health and Communities, Helen Keenan.

Another travel claim was made for 80 pence by the Mayor’s Arts Advisor Munira Mirza, who earns £82,000 a year.

In the last year several senior staff and politicians have claimed for single oyster journeys, and members of the GLA’s Standards Committee have asked officers to go away and review the current procedures and guidance on claim levels.

The current expenses system at City Hall has no low-limit and any changes would have to be agreed by the whole London Assembly.

Group Performance Manager at the GLA, Tom Middleton said: “One of the issues that has come up is claiming for very small amounts and the costs that are incurred through the system of processing it.

“There have been examples where senior staff are claiming quite minor amounts on occasion.”

When asked if a de minimis” level of £5 was worth considering, he said: That could be a route to go down, yes.

“I know that the rest of the staff, middle management included, just do not claim. If we have a couple of pounds here or there we just don’t have minor expenses. It is a fact.

“Other organisations do have guidance on what is appropriate.”

Liberal Democrat leader at City Hall, Caroline Pidgeon, has backed the decision to consider whether it was right to use taxpayers’ money to pay such small claims.

“I think there is a point here when it comes to staff who are paid a lot and whether this is something members could also employ. I personally wouldn’t claim,” she said.

But others are concerned that people could be left out-of-pocket or would claim more because of a minimum expense claim level.

Deputy Mayor of London for Communities, Richard Barnes said: “We can’t just add anything under £5 people must just swallow it themselves.

“We don’t know what every individual’s financial circumstances are. They may be maintaining three or four different families and be behind on their mortgage payments. We can’t make those kind of assumptions about why some reclaim and some don’t. But £1.50 for somebody may be a huge amount. Salary levels do not tell the whole story.

“I would oppose any de minimis level. You have to remember this is out-of-pocket expenses.”

Conservative assembly member Victoria Borwick added: “If we said the minimum was £5, people would genuinely say I’d rather have five pennies rather than one. I would be concerned you would up the unintended cost.”

One in four oyster ‘fines’ are incorrect

28 02 2011

Just a short blog to highlight my story in the story in the Standard today.

The key point for me is that one in four people who fail to swipe in or out properly on the Tube, railways, DLR or London Overground are given a penalty of a maximum daily fare but are then given it back because it was an error.

The system either automatically gives it back to them  or the customer is forced to complain and request a refund.

This raises a lot of questions about Oyster and whether the system is getting overstretched by the extension to the railways and the complicated fares that can bring forward.

TfL say they are improving the situation and demanding that rail companies put in gates at all stations to seal up the system, but nevertheless one in four fines being mistakes is a big issue and affects at least 3.6 million Londoners every year.

Champions League rip-off

17 02 2011

Boris is right to extol the virtues of the Champions League final being at Wembley this year, but has he not seen the prices? My goodness.

The public can get tickets, but it seems the minimum price is £150 for adults and £80 for people in wheelchairs, which is  really steep, especially as the top tickets are going for £300. What I’m even more annoyed about is the administration fee, which is an incredible and perhaps record-breaking £26 per transaction! There will be a package for adults and a child at £338, and only go with the £225 adult ticket. These all go on sale a week today.

But in much better news London will also host a FREE eight-day UEFA Champions Festival in Hyde Park in the run up to both the women’s and men’s finals at the end of May.

The festival site will consist of live football areas, five a side tournaments and master classes, alongside a wide range of entertainment and bars, plus a dedicated UEFA travelling museum which will give fans an opportunity to get close to the UEFA Champions Trophy.

Boris, whose press officer tried to make him sound like he understood football, but failed, said: “We are home to footballing giants and this is the contest of Europe’s best. Londoners are incredibly passionate about football, not least because our capital contains some of the best clubs in Europe. So with our enviable pedigree in running top-notch sporting occasions, and our passion for the beautiful game, there can be no better city to host the UEFA Champions League finals.

So as the excitement builds and you can’t wait until kick off head instead for Hyde Park and soak up the atmosphere at the wonderful, free, UEFA Champions Festival that I am delighted London is hosting.”

And all this allows me to show Boris playing football again:

Boost for fans wanting to use Olympic ‘fan sites’ in 2012

11 02 2011

For all those interested in the Olympics games, especially those who accept they may not get or cannot afford Games tickets, then some good news is brewing at City Hall.

I’ve been told that Boris Johnson may add an extra event in central London to allow tens of thousands more sports fans to watch the action.

An insider has tipped me off  claiming the Mayor of London is considering land on the edge of Thames next to the London Eye as a potential spot for one of his Olympic ‘live sites’, which will show sporting action for free throughout the games.

He has already announced there will be giant screens broadcasting 2012 events in London’s Hyde Park, Victoria Park, and on land next to his City Hall building close to Tower Bridge, some of which could attract up to 80,000 people per day.

But it is understood a fourth venue could be necessary to cater for all those who fail to secure or cannot afford any of the 6.6 million Olympic tickets set for release next month.

I also understand that they are furiously putting together ticketing plans for these events, but I have it on pretty good authority that these will be free and ticketed for security and safety reasons only.

The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games have also confirmed to me it will run 18 others sites across UK town and city centres throughout the Olympic and Paralympic Games, all of which will also be free.

Here I am in dispatches in the Telegraph on the matter this morning: LINK

17.42PM: and now here: LINK

Pressure on Boris to give the gift of free travel to Tube sufferers

10 02 2011

At this morning’s budget debate at City Hall Boris Johnson was pressed again on the poor reliability on many Tube lines in recent months and weeks, and he again said he was “frustrated” about it all but claimed it was improving.

Also interestingly he did not deny blasting Peter Hendy on the phone last week because it had all gone to pot again.

In particular, there was a plea to improve life for the long-suffering people who have been stuck using the Jubilee Line  with all its delays and closures.

As a result of years of misery there, I know that he is currently being put under pressure to give them a day of free travel to recognise the disruption they have suffered.

Opposition politicians at City Hall say travellers deserve the gift because the line’s signalling upgrade is 18-months late and its stations have closed on more than 100 weekends since 2007.

They have asked that the Mayor repeat what happened on the East London Line’s opening day last year, where thousands enjoyed free travel along the route, or hand out free travelcards to commuters at Jubilee Line stations.

Mr Johnson says he wants to reward people because of the “highly disruptive” delays and that Transport for London is considering what to do when the Jubilee Line’s upgrade is completed this Spring.

But he has also admitted that he considers a day of free travel would probably be too expensive in the current financial climate.

Leader of City Hall’s Liberal Democrats Caroline Pidgeon insists that Boris Johnson should try to find the cash to recognise how much communities along the Jubilee Line have suffered.

“Given the immense disruption Jubilee Line passengers have suffered the Mayor must properly thank them for putting up with so much,” she told me.

“Regular users of the Jubilee Line deserve a few days free travel, but if the Mayor won’t fund this then he needs to come up with alternative proposals to celebrate the line operating properly again and to thank passengers for their patience.”

A series of delays and problems means the improvements on the Jubilee Line will finish 18 months later than promised this April-ish.

To speed the process Boris Johnson and London Underground stepped in last year to buy Tube Lines, who they blamed for the delays, at a cost of more than £300 million.

Because of the lessons learned from the disruption on the Jubilee Line, Tube bosses have decided to upgrade the Northern Line while imposing a ban on weekend and early evening closures.

“Both London Underground (LU) and I fully appreciate that Tube Lines’ lengthy programme to upgrade the Jubilee line has been highly disruptive to London,” Mr Johnson said in a new written response.

“In recognition of that, LU is investigating the most appropriate way to mark the completion of this major piece of work. Of course, the real benefit to users of the line will come in the form of more frequent trains, faster journeys and increased capacity that the upgrade will eventually deliver.

“Bearing in mind the cost incurred by LU in resolving the serious failings in the Tube Lines approach and the importance of prioritising the investment needed for the vital upgrade of the Tube, my initial reaction is that I could not justify such a costly concession.

“The opening of the East London line was slightly different in that it offered TfL the chance to attract new customers to what was effectively a brand new railway, showcasing the new stations, reopened stations and connections that can now be made to new areas of east London.”

Boris admits his attitude may have caused strikes.

9 02 2011

For the first time the Mayor has admitted that his hardline approach to the Tube unions has  resulted in more strikes crippling the network.

But he still insists that he will not to be “swayed” by the demands of union bosses and will stick to his plans for reform of Transport for London.

Londoners have suffered 21 Tube strikes since he was elected Mayor in 2008, compared with 17 during Ken Livingstone’s eight years in office.

Despite the marked difference, Mr Johnson also launched a blistering attack on his Labour predecessor’s record on industrial relations, accusing him of giving in to the “unsustainable and spurious” demands of union bosses over working conditions.

And he stepped up his criticisms of the Tube unions, claiming that their numerous “utterly pointless” strikes had nothing to do with the welfare of their members and had “achieved nothing.”

It comes after the Mayor wrote to bosses at Aslef, the train drivers union, to offer face-to-face talks in an ongoing dispute over working conditions, but was turned down.

In a written answer to the London Assembly, he added: “My predecessor apparently took the view that it was expedient, in response to their threats of strike action, to submit to the unsustainable and often spurious demands of the union leaderships.

“I take a different view, which is that we should not be swayed from well thought through plans or properly taken decisions simply because some union leaders seek to obstruct them.

“This may have led to more strikes, but they have been utterly pointless, have achieved nothing, and in many cases have had little or no impact on services.”

Last year thousands of commuters were forced to work from home or find alternative routes on several occasions as large sections of the Tube were shut down by 24-hour strikes.

The unions – the RMT as well as Aslef – have threatened more to come in the ongoing dispute over pay and conditions.

Meanwhile, firefighters had been in a five-year dispute with management over Brigade demands for staff to work longer day shifts, which almost led to a controversial strike on last year’s Bonfire Night.

Opposition politicians have rounded on the Mayor, who pledged to initiate a no-strike deal when he was elected to City Hall, for his attack on the unions.

A spokesman for Mr Livingstone told me: “Boris Johnson himself now concedes that there have been more strikes under him in just three years than in the entire period that Ken Livingstone was responsible for the Tube, whilst at the same time fares are rising and delays and disruption continue.

”The consequence for Londoners of that failure to get a grip of industrial relations on the tube is more disruption for the travelling public.”