Friday, October 01, 2004

London House missed this one

When questioned by the leader of the UKIP group in the London Assembly a couple of weeks ago about the £600,000 plus a year London House in Brussels, its director pompously explained that its existence was necessary not just to pay her a handsome salary but also to lobby for the interests of Londoners. Why cannot London’s elected MEPs do that? Ah well, she said condescendingly, in Brussels decision are affected through a network of organizations and meetings. Pork barrel politics, in other words.

However, when challenged to produce a single example of successful lobbying by London House, she could mention the rather nebulous business of taxi drivers not having to comply with the Working Hours Directive. As they are self-employed, they probably would not have had to comply anyway, but just in case, credit for this amazing achievement is claimed by London House, the Transport Department, the Licensed Cabdrivers’ Association, old uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all.

One of the partners in London House is Transport for London, who, presumably, uses some of the funds acquired from the congestions charge for a few jollies in Brussels, as its ability to find out what is going to go wrong and stop it seems strictly limited.

For some time TfL and the Mayor of London have had a plan to calibrate charges for heavy goods vehicles over the Thames Gateway Bridge. Vehicles from neighbouring boroughs will pay less than those from far away. Now we find that they are not allowed to do so. The EU says that there can be no differentiation between the various HGVs as this would go against the rules of the single market.

One can argue whichever way one likes over the question of local against long-distance traffic. But one thing is clear. Neither London House nor TfL, which maintains an expensive presence there, managed to spot that one coming or to lobby against it. I am sure there will be nice Christmas parties, though.

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