One of Sadiq Khan’s top advisors today urged ministers to let City Hall “help them serve the population of London” by reversing their decision to abandon rail devolution.
Since 2007 Transport for London has controlled the London Overground which it transformed from one of the UK’s worst performing railways to one of the highest rated. City Hall and TfL say handing over the remaining rail services would allow them to replicate that success, improving services and taking a major political burden off of ministers’ desks.
However last year transport secretary Chris Grayling axed plans drawn up by Conservative ministers and Boris Johnson to devolve control of surface rail services in the capital.
Despite the seeming finality of Mr Grayling’s decision, Mr Khan hopes to secure a u-turn and could be helped by calls inside the Tory party to rethink their offer to London in the wake of last month’s general election when, instead of making expected gains, the party lost seats to both Labour and the Liberal Democrats.
Restarting the devolution process would provide ministers with an easy path to improving vital rail services while also boosting their party’s standing in the capital.
Speaking as Mr Khan announced a 24/7 service on the London Overground Val Shawcross, deputy mayor for transport, suggested the election result showed Londoners were calling out for more support.
While she declined to comment on the Tories’ standing in London due to the politically restricted nature of her post, Ms Shawcross did suggest “the fact that Londoners came out and were very active in the election shows the Government that this election wasn’t just about the fact that the North was asking for more support
“I think Londoners were also saying ‘don’t forget us, we need recognition as well’.”
She added: “We have a disproportionate, huge problem of homelessness and unaffordability of property for people to live in.
“People sometimes look at London and only see Westminster, they don’t see the fact that in Sutton and Merton and in Bromley people are struggling to get to work sometimes.”
Shawcross, whose role gives her day to day political oversight of TfL, said transferring rail services to the agency would “make such a huge difference to the economy of south London” by supporting Mr Khan’s plans to build thousands of new homes and support the creation of the jobs needed by London’s growing population.
She said that pre-election engagement with MPs and councils “of all colours” showed widespread support for rail devolution and a shared belief that it was essential if passengers were to get the service improvements they’re entitled to.
Mr Khan has “a date in the very short term” to meet with Grayling and discuss London’s needs, which also include the need for an early go-ahead on Crossrail 2, and meetings with Greg Hands, the new Minister for London, are also likely.
Shawcross paid tribute to Gavin Barwell, the former London Minister who who lost his seat in the election and has since been appointed as Theresa May’s chief of staff.
“We saw an awful lot of…Gavin Barwell,” she said. “He was incredibly helpful and pragmatic and I hope we’ll develop a good relationship with the minister.”
Calling on ministers to join forces with Mr Khan in the interests of Londoners she said: “It’s really important that rail devolution goes back in the centre stage for the Government. We can help them serve the population of London so much better if we’re allowed to take control.”