There was, it seems, some concern at City Hall over the announcement yesterday evening by the deeply subversive Guardian that Barclays Bank is to pull the plug on its sponsorship of London’s cycle hire scheme, another project whose economics do not reflect well on occasional Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson. And now all those questions previously batted away will once again be asked.
Not least of these is the awarding of sponsorship rights to Barclays without going out to tender, something that was picked up by the BBC’s Tim Donovan, whose questioning of Bozza resulted in a most unfortunate outburst during last year’s Mayoral election campaign.
“BBC London has learned that before Barclays' bid last year, substantial extra benefits were offered to the bank by the mayor's transport officials ... The mayor has defended the deal, saying no-one could have predicted that it would be such a success” he observed. Bozza’s cheerleaders were soon on Donovan’s case.
The following day, ConHome triumphantly noted that “A year on, the Boris Bikes triumph while the BBC sneer ... there have been six million journeys undertaken using the new bikes”. But by this year, there were signs that all was not well: “Transport for London has been forced to hand back £1.57m of a £50m sponsorship by Barclays into their cycle hire scheme after incurring penalties for poor performance” observed The Drum in April.
And the outrage machine that is the Daily Mail was equally unimpressed: “London's 4,000 Boris bikes cost taxpayers £1,400 for each bicycle every year despite sponsorship from Barclays ... Boris bike scheme is costing taxpayers £11million to run every single year ... Sponsors Barclays pay just one sixth of the cost ... scheme is the most costly to the taxpayer in the world”.
The Mail’s figures, as Tom Barry at BorisWatch calculated, are broadly correct. Moreover, the subsidy per hire, at £1.20, is seven times that for London’s buses at 17p per journey. Yet, as he observes, the cycle hire scheme is expanding while the bus network is not, despite demand in parts of the capital easily outstripping supply. And now the sponsor that got all that cheap advertising has pulled the plug.
That plug is being pulled three years early: as Donovan reported back in 2011, “he announced on the first anniversary of the scheme that the bank would continue backing it for a further three years, up to 2018”. The cycle hire scheme wasn’t Bozza’s idea, he was happy to take the plaudits, but he loused it up and now the whole thing has come apart in his hands.
Had it been Ken Livingstone, the right-leaning press would have been all over him like a rash. Bozza fouls up, his press pals look away. No change there, then.