Socialist Party
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3 May 2007

Tales from the council chamber

What 'public-private partnerships really mean

SOCIALIST PARTY councillors, Ian Page and Chris Flood have won another victory on Lewisham council. Lewisham is to back the call for London Bridge station to be 're-zoned' while the East London underground line is closed for extension works.

Following a recent public consultation meeting, Ian and Chris submitted a motion to Lewisham council, welcoming the East London line's extension but expressing concern with Transport for London's (TfL) plan to close the entire line for thirty months from December. The motion committed the council to lobby TfL for a phased or sectional closure programme to carry out the extension works.

The motion also called for transport replacement arrangements to include the temporary re-zoning of London Bridge as a Zone Two station for 'transit journeys' that start and finish outside the expensive Zone One. Otherwise, East London line users will face the 'choice' of massively increased journey times for years or going through central London overground stations like London Bridge or Cannon Street and paying an extra fare each time for the privilege.

In an unusual piece of lobbying before the council meeting, every councillor received a letter from TfL's Director of Development explicitly opposing the motion's call to re-zone London Bridge. "Although this might initially seem attractive", the letter argued, "it is not viable... the train operating companies, which are privately run, have estimated that this would cost them around 100m in lost revenue".

This is very instructive. TfL is the transport arm of the Greater London Authority, a democratically-elected body led by the mayor of London, Ken Livingstone. Yet here it was, lobbying on behalf of its private sector 'partners' profits. Doesn't this say everything about whose interests come first in New Labour's 'public-private partnership' and PFI private finance initiative schemes? These are 'partnerships' in the same way that a horse is 'a partner' for its rider!

Despite this intervention, however, Lewisham's New Labour councillors realised that they had no alternative but to grudgingly support the Socialist Party motion. The New Labour Deputy Mayor used her entire five minutes speaking time to attack the Socialist Party - "Unlike the socialists I live in the real world where you have to work constructively with your partners behind closed doors to get things done" - but was forced to recommend a yes vote.

Ian Page, replying, thanked her 'for her sterling efforts' (for which she gets paid 47,600 a year), but hoped that now something could actually be done - rather than just talked about - to defend the interests of East London line users.