Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Making the Best of a Bad PPP Job

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Making the Best of a Bad PPP Job

Article excerpt

NOW IT is plain that the government's PPP plan for the Tube will go ahead, there is a new challenge for the mayor.

In the interests of every Londoner, he must do his utmost to make PPP work. He regards the scheme as a folly. So do we. But any appeal against Monday's High Court verdict looks doomed. There is no further legal means of stopping Gordon Brown and Tony Blair. In the past, Mr Livingstone has often enjoyed tweaking the tails of authority.

The mayor can make a lot of mischief with the Tube, if he wishes. A few weeks ago he was seen at his worst when he refused to condemn the RMT union for striking, allegedly about safety but in reality about jobs for life. The Tube unions, under any management, are a disgrace to London and a serious factor in the system's problems. If the mayor now encourages them to new excesses, or otherwise seeks to exploit the potential for chaos on the Underground, he will not cause much embarrassment to Tony Blair, but he will hurt millions of commuters. Mr Livingstone must not only hold back from forging any alliance with the RMT militants; he must fight their selfish wrecking tactics.

More than that, however, he and his Transport Commissioner Mr Bob Kiley must maintain relentless pressure on London Transport and the government about the detail of the PPP contracts. There are good grounds for believing that the government is not only wrong in principle, but is also offering the contractors far too easy terms for their work. It will be necessary to argue every point of the deal, to expose every weakness of the Department of Transport's arrangements and the contractors' shortcomings.

The worst approach now would be for the mayor and Mr Kiley to shrug and wash their hands. Instead, the Treasury and the Transport Department must be harried and bullied at every turn to salvage something for London's commuters from the mess the Government has created.

How effectively he does this will be a vital test of Mr Livingstone's claims to be a serious politician as well as a showman.

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