As the media arrived at Wandsworth Town railway station the bike dock outside was only half full.
My quip that this was because Barclays had run off with half the sponsorship cash did not go down well with TfL’s Leon Daniels but it did set the tone for the morning.
As Boris subjected himself to the media scrum he endured question after question about the bank’s decision to quit three years earlier than expected and the now well rehearsed discrepancies between statements made in July 2011 and this week.
The Mayor, who deserves a seasonal smidgen of credit for turning up to what was never going to be a fun morning, stuck like a trooper to the lines that Barclays had helped deliver a cycling revolution and he was appreciative of their £25m.
And he insisted that the bank’s decision to call time on their sponsorship wasn’t a blow or embarrassment for him, but a golden opportunity for another major brand to come in and reap the rewards of generosity.
He batted away my invitation to blame TfL for claiming to have a deal in place but then failing to lock in Barclays and their money and declined to say when he discovered the bank wasn’t contracted for the full £50m he’d been promising Londoners for two years.
So much for the direct approach.
Luckily I’ve spent some of the past few days asking around and think I have an understanding of how events unfolded.
Everybody I’ve spoken to agrees that TfL and Barclays signed a Heads of Terms in mid 2011 which prepared the way for the two parties to negotiate an extension of the original contract.
I’m promised a copy of this document will arrive in my inbox once the TfL legal team have checked it for anything overly confidential.
It seems it was this initial agreement which gave TfL and City Hall the confidence to issue the 28th July press release which announced the extension to the world.
But the negotiations needed to turn the informal agreement into a binding contract seem to have taken longer than might be expected for a simple term extension.
Is it possible TfL wanted to remove the clauses which reduced the amount payable by Barlcays as usage fell? Was Barclays unhappy at the lack of credit they were getting for the money they were paying?
No-one’s willing to comment on the exact sticking points but they must have been substantial to delay a deal for two years.
By July this year – two years after the extension was first announced – there was still no formal deal in place and this was the month Barclays told TfL they were reviewing their entire global sponsorship portfolio.
Some accounts suggest TfL still thought a deal was possible until, in October, the bank told City Hall that they were quitting at the end of the original contract.
With no firm deal in place TfL & City Hall could do nothing but clear up the mess when news of the deal’s collapse broke on Tuesday evening.
Which brings us back to who knew what and when, specifically my question to Boris on when he knew there was no additional £25m.
Earlier this week London Assembly Member Darren Johnson said Boris was either “misleading us or he simply didn’t know” when he repeatedly promised to deliver £50m.
That intervention has prompted some robust defences of the Mayor – though not from his press office who’ve still not provided a response to Darren’s statement.
One person tells me “it’s crazy” to suggest the Mayor would ever have misled anyone and that he acted in good faith based on what he was told at the time.
The clarity of Boris’s various statements certainly doesn’t suggest he knew the deal was shaky and it’s hard to see why he’d have knowingly given political opponents and critics such a golden opportunity to bash him.
But if the Mayor’s not to blame, who is?
Did TfL miss warning signs that a deal was increasingly less likely? Did its award-winning legal team fail to spot the importance of keeping the Mayor in the loop? It wouldn’t be the first time they’ve failed to spot the political ramifications of something staring them in the face.
Or was it just unfortunate timing?
When the original deal with Barclays was signed, no-one could imagine the troubles the bank would find itself in or that they would precipitate the departure of Boris ally Bob Diamond.
Different leadership teams will inevitably have different priorities and it’s possible the new Barclays management just didn’t see any upside from the deal their predecessors signed in 2010 or the promised extension.
With no formal deal in place they found themselves free to walk away and took the opportunity to do so.
Of the various explanations that’s the one I’ve been most consistently pointed in the direction of so it may well be the truth, and if we add to it the possibility that TfL failed to keep City Hall in the loop we have the rough outline of a plausible ‘cock-up rather than conspiracy’ explanation.
There is of course another popular theory, namely that the bank was frightened off by the adverse publicity surrounding the recent spare of bike casualties.
That’s been so vehemently denied by people I trust that I’m confident we can safely dismiss it, plus the dates don’t really match up with what I’ve been told of the timeline.
Ken used to joke that City Hall was so centralised that he had to personally sign the photocopier contract.
Boris may not be about to start personally drawing up major sponsorship contracts but it’s a safe bet he’ll be keeping a closer eye on TfL when it negotiates deals on his behalf.