THE final verdict on how much taxpayers should pay Tube Lines for the next seven and a half years of the hugely-controversial public-private partnership could be delayed until after the general election, I can reveal.
The announcement was to have been made on 29 April, the week before the likely polling date and London borough election date of 6 May. The PPP arbiter now wants it to be put back by about two weeks to mid-May.
It’s a hugely important decision, with up to £1.75 billion at stake. That’s the difference between how much Tube Lines wants to charge for upgrading three Underground lines (£5.75 billion) and the amount that Transport for London wants to pay (£4 billion.)
In his initial determination published in December, the arbiter, Chris Bolt, came down closer to TfL than Tube Lines, at £4.4 billion – though even that has led to serious concern in TfL about where the extra £400 million is to come from. The Mayor, Boris Johnson, has called on the Government to provide but been told, essentially, to get lost.
The official reason for the proposed postponement, likely to be announced today, is the volume of representations received. But more than one observer suspects the hand of the Government here, too – not keen to have London voters reminded of one its most serious mistakes a few days before they go to the polls.
Could the postponement also be a hint of further bad news – that the final settlement will be less favourable to TfL, and more favourable to Tube Lines, than before? That’s an even more chilling prospect.
The delay is not yet set in stone, and the PPP arbiter should change his mind. The democratic interest is surely best served by the people of London knowing the true cost of the policies they are voting on, before they have a chance to vote. And if that means Mr Bolt working late a few nights, so be it. I wouldn’t begrudge him the overtime.