Our friends at Transport for London have delivered an early Christmas present – the final copy of their new sponsorship policy which sets out how they’ll solicit third-party funding for new and existing services in the future.
The policy stems from the London Assembly’s ‘Whose brand is it anyway?’ report and a draft copy was first presented to Assembly Members back in April.
Since then TfL has announced a series of actions and initiatives designed at making the organisation more transparent and the wealth of data it collects more accessible to those who ultimately own it.
Other highlights include a promise to negate the need for Londoners, journalists and Assembly Members to file an endless procession of FOI requests by proactively publishing the most requested data, and increasing the publicity of its board, committee and panel meetings.
I’m also told that officers are looking at how details of key decisions and action points arising from these meetings can be more quickly published between sessions.
Plus of course it published the full sponsorship contracts with Virgin Media, Emirates and, eventually, Barclays.
In a statement issued as I was close to finishing this piece, TfL’s Director of Commercial Development, Graeme Craig said sponsorship “enables us to deliver value for money for fare and taxpayers’ and we’ve already seen the benefits it has brought to Londoners.”
I could fill the internet with why the Barclays contract – now only worth a maximum of £48.5m – is spectacularly poor value for Londoners but I do agree that there’s a place for sensible sponsorship of public services, especially at a time when Londoners are struggling to cope with the cost of living.
Sadly TfL’s past willingness to enter into gagging, racist and secrecy clauses and then fight for years to uphold those clauses has overshadowed many of the benefits it perceives the existing deals to have delivered.
Its own surveys show that the decision to lavish so much publicity on Barclays in return for a dwindling sum of money greatly distorted public understanding of the bike scheme’s finances.
And then there’s the spectacular own-goal of agreeing to further the foreign policy of a middle east dictatorship in return for cash from Emirates.
The new sponsorship policy suggests TfL has learnt some lessons from the backfiring of these two deals.
In future “any benefits conferred on the sponsor must be proportionate to the value of the sponsorship” – so we’d be less likely to see TfL endlessly dropping the headline sponsor’s name into press releases while ignoring the role of other funders.
And any other passing racist Governments wanting to do deals would find themselves being sent on their way because TfL will no longer do business with “Organisations involved in unlawful discrimination against people with one or more protected characteristics within the terms of the Equality Act 2010”.
Some of the measures outlined above have been offered willingly while others have been forced grudgingly from the organisation or promised in response to bruising episodes.
But whatever the reason individual commitments have been offered up, collectively they’re a massive win for Londoners who will soon have unprecedented access to TfL’s data, contracts and meetings and for the organisation itself which ends the year much closer to being the open, transparent body it has always claimed to be.
Update: John Biggs, Chair of the Assembly’s Budget and Performance Committee and author of the Assembly’s transparency report, has issued the following statement: “Last year we issued a report urging TfL to publish its sponsorship policy to ensure that its approach to deals – like those for the Emirates cable car and Barclays cycle hire scheme – are clear, transparent and consistent.
“Today’s publication of the new TfL sponsorship policy is a step in the right direction, but much more detail will be needed in the subsequent strategy to really get to grips with how much money they expect to make from sponsorship – and how it might change the experience of travelling in the capital.”