Britain says London mayor 'bankrupted' the capital, demands cost cuts

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Britain’s Housing Secretary Jenrick appears on BBC TV’s The Andrew Marr Show in London

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain is looking to force the body responsible for running London to sell off land and cut running costs as part of a fractious financial COVID-19 bailout designed to keep the capital’s transport system running.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan, from the opposition Labour Party, has called for a 5.7 billion pound package for Transport for London (TfL) after commuters deserted public trains and busses during the pandemic.

Khan says in return the government is insisting on higher fares and a raft of other revenue raising mechanisms such as increasing the size of the congestion zone which requires drivers to pay a fee to drive in the city.

“There has to be a resolution with him,” Housing minister Robert Jenrick told LBC Radio. “It can be for example.. selling off TfL land so we get homes built in parts of London, there’s a lot of opportunity to do that. It can also mean bearing down on some of the costs.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government is locked in negotiations with several city mayors over how businesses should be compensated when they are forced to close during lockdowns and how public services can continue.

Khan, who had frozen the cost of single fares, said in a statement the government’s proposals would deter Londoners from travelling, further damaging any economic recovery.

He said the government had previously given a much more supportive bailout to private national train operators which have suffered a similar drop in income.

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Jenrick said it had “to resolve the fact that the mayor has bankrupted TfL and the Greater London Authority.”

“We’ve already given multiple billions of pounds to him over the last few years to bail him out,” he said. “How do we take this forwards. Well, I’m afraid it can’t keep falling back to the taxpayers of the whole of the United Kingdom.”

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