HE resignation of Andy Byford as London’s Transport Commissioner is a blow for the Mayor, Sadiq Khan, and a blow for Londoners. Mr Byford was widely respected, and helped negotiate a funding deal with the Government which partly addresses TfL’s shortfall in revenue due to Covid. Given the frosty relationship between ministers and City Hall, it was useful that the Commissioner was highly regarded throughout the industry. The Mayor is now on his third TfL commissioner and his third deputy mayor for transport.
Mr Byford is leaving for family reasons, but it is reasonable to surmise that the challenges he faced didn’t help. There was endless wrangling with a hostile government over five bailouts. There is also something of a continuing brain drain from TfL itself, a problem that he warned about: the successive resignations inevitably affected morale. TfL has unresolved problems with pensions and staff cuts. There is, moreover, disquiet about proposed cuts to many bus routes. And there are more Tube and bus strikes to come.
As for what comes next, the funding deal imposed by the Government is far from perfect — it left TfL with a £230 million shortfall in its finances which will have to be met from business rates, council tax and a raid on GLA reserves, which, by definition, is a trick that cannot be repeated endlessly. The next Commissioner, then, will have to make continuing savings, yet given that one in four weekday passengers pre-pandemic has not returned, it will be a challenge to find them.
The Mayor must now find a new Commissioner. Replacing Mr Byford will be difficult; for potential successors, the job must look like a high-profile poisoned chalice. Solving the underlying problems with London’s transport system was hard and will be even harder now.
Good luck, Thérèse
THE Health Secretary, Thérèse Coffey, has set out her plans for reforming patient care. She wants patients who need same-day appointments to have them and is promising no-one will have to wait more than two weeks for a routine appointment — it sounds like a low bar to surmount but one in five appointments takes longer. Carefully, these promises are not framed as official targets but as expectations of what patients should be entitled to.
Of course, she is right. But as Miss Coffey’s predecessor, Jeremy Hunt, pointed out, the underlying problems with the NHS are to do with recruiting and training people and retaining them. Currently many GPs and hospital doctors are opting for part-time work or retirement. The Government is changing the funding rules to allow practices to take on more senior nurses and GP assistants, and is allowing pharmacists to take on more responsibilities, but it will take more than short-term remedies to deal with the condition of the NHS.
Schooled for success
THE London Academy of Excellence in Stratford, dubbed the Eton of the East End, has made it to the final three of a crucial part of the World’s Best School competition. It was nominated in the Supporting Healthy Lives category for supporting student wellbeing. Good luck to it. Where Stratford leads, the world follows.