Of all the briefings and reports drawn up for the Mayor since 2000, none has fascinated Assembly Members as much as the annual Transport for London guidance on fares.
The allure rests mostly down to the refusals of both Ken and Boris to publish the advice which informs and underpins their decision to lower or raise fares each January.
AMs believe the information is essential if they’re to properly scrutinise the Mayor’s budgets, Mayors insist that the advice is privileged and exempt from publication.
In his early days at City Hall Boris published a single briefing from TfL to Ken in order to support claims that his predecessor had engaged in a “cynical” pre-election bribe by lowering fares. But, despite his repeated assurances to run a transparent administration, Boris never got around to publishing TfL’s advice to him.
Tired of asking nicely for the information, Assembly Member John Biggs complained to the Information Commissioner’s Office.
Just before the incredibly long purdah period began, the ICO formed a preliminary view that the public interest in seeing how the fares decision is made outweighed the Mayor’s right to confidential advice.
But it now transpires the Mayor was far from happy about the way the Assembly announced its win as being the result of pressure from the ICO.
In a pretty miffed letter sent to Biggs this week, Boris insists: “the information was disclosed to you on a voluntary basis, regardless of any conclusion the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) might eventually have reached.”
“The only real impact of your approach outside the City Hall bubble is to portray the GLA in a negative light with the ICO.”
But while he argues against Assembly assertions that the information is necessary to properly scrutinise his budget, Boris has also released fares briefings covering 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2013.
His letter suggests that briefings for all other years (2000-2007 and 2011) haven’t been retained by City Hall, which seems a little unfortunate.
Regardless of whether Boris really did publish the documents voluntarily, it’s a welcome further opening up of City Hall which allows Londoners to understand the basis on which the Mayor takes a key decision which affects millions of passengers every day.
I’ve asked his office whether he’ll now automatically publish future fares advice and when that would happen.
In the meantime you can play at being Mayor and read the briefings here.
There’s also been a welcome and slight relaxing of TfL’s approach to confidential documents.
Like City Hall, TfL splits items for discussion or publication into two parts – an open ‘part 1’ for discussion in public or routine publication, and a restricted ‘part 2’ which only gets discussed after the public have been kicked out of meetings.
It took a couple of months, but TfL eventually provided Assembly Member Darren Johnson with a copy of a Bike Hire briefing which had been considered by the board in September 2013 but which he argued could no longer be considered exempt due to the passage of time.
While both are entitled to make decisions in private where commercial confidentialities are at stake, hopefully both TfL and City Hall will continue to publish all documents once any genuine need to keep them secret has lapsed.