Tory Mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith has promised to recruit 500 additional police officers to patrol the Tube if he’s elected next month.
The officers would be assigned to the British Transport Police, which has responsibility for protecting the Tube and rail network, but would be paid for by the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime and Transport for London.
Mr Goldsmith says he could fund the pledge by axing a perk which allows TfL employees to give one member of their household a pass entitling them to free travel.
Although the majority of passes are understood to be issued to spouses and partners, there have long been claims that some are issued to “lodgers and flatmates” because staff don’t have to provide evidence of a relationship with their chosen beneficiary.
Calls to axe the perk were first made by Liberal Democrats on the Assembly during former Mayor Ken Livingstone’s tenure and have been amplified in recent years by Conservative AMs.
Last year the Conservative Assembly group claimed the concession costs TfL £22m per year in lost revenue, although the agency dismissed this as “nonsense” and insisted the actual amount it would gain if the perk were removed would be “no more than £5-7 million”.
Outgoing Mayor Boris Johnson has repeatedly defended the concession, arguing that it’s a “long-standing” benefit and any move to axe it would sour employee relations.
Asked about the gap between his stance and Mr Johnson’s position, Mr Goldsmith said he believed axing the perk was a “trade-off” which Londoners would back in return for increased security.
He told MayorWatch: “I regard a situation where TfL employees can give anyone they know a free pass for the London transport network as an unfair situation that costs at least tens of millions.
“The figure is disputed but it is at least tens of millions and if that is so that is money that would, in my view, be better spent providing 500 additional British Transport Police on our Tube network.
“We know that the threat has grown, I don’t think anyone disputes that, we know that anxiety levels have gone through the roof when it comes to the threat of terror, particularly in use of our public transport system, so I believe that this is an absolutely vital trade-off and I think this is something most Londoners would agree”.
Mr Goldsmith’s proposal to pay for the officers by removing the travel perk has been criticised by Mick Cash, General Secretary of the RMT union.
Mr Cash said: “At a time when the multi-billion pound tax-dodging racket of the super-rich is all over the media it is disgusting that Tory multi-millionaire Zac Goldsmith is threatening the long-established travel concessions for hard-working London transport workers.
“Not only are the hereditary multi-millionaire Goldsmith’s figures a total joke but the fact is that if London needs more investment in transport and policing it should come from the gangsters, crooks and tax-dodgers who use this City as a dumping ground for their dirty money.”
The extra officers are the headline pledge in a new crime manifesto which also includes a promise to let residents have a greater say in how their communities are policed.
Mr Goldsmith’s main rival in the election, Labour’s Sadiq Khan, said: “You simply can’t trust the Tories to keep London safe.
“The last Tory Mayor broke his election promises to cut crime and improve confidence in the police. And the number of police officers in London is down 1,535 since the Tories came to power.
“It would be exactly the same under Zac Goldsmith – fewer police officers, more cuts and Londoners left less safe.”
However a Tory spokesperson hit back, saying: “Londoners face a choice between Zac, whose Action Plan for Greater London will fund more police and keep London safe without raising council tax, and Khan, who made a career from suing the police and whose £1.9 billion black hole would put London at risk.”
Londoners will elect a new Mayor and the 25 members of the London Assembly on May 5th. Candidates for Mayor include Conservative Zac Goldsmith, Labour’s Sadiq Khan, Liberal Democrat Caroline Pidgeon, the Green party’s Sian Berry and UKIP’s Peter Whittle.