Monday, 9th March 2015

by Joshua Gaskell

Just over a week ago, London Transport* put out a press release announcing that from next month its bike hire scheme will be rebranded, from Barclays Cycle Hire to Santander Cycles. As when Santander took over the already-demutualised Abbey National, this is not a qualitative change, the decision to make the public good subservient to profit having already been made. (In this case the profit motive will switch from being that of Barclays – one of the ‘Big Four’ high-street banks – to that of Santander – which wants to boost its profile in order to take customers away from the Big Four.)

The press release states that ‘The new £43.75m deal is the largest public-sector sponsorship in the world’ – a dubious distinction – but doesn’t say how much of that money will be wasted on ‘the new red-and-white livery’.

One organisation not mentioned in the press release at all is the one that actually operates the scheme: Serco. (Its contract to continue doing so runs until 31st July 2017.) Despite the fact that the scheme is essentially a public transport system run by an arm of local government, neither sponsorship by, nor outsourcing to a private company is felt to be enough on its own. Not one or the other – both.

This is a parody of a ‘new deal’, and the right-thinking response to it is the same as that given by Iain Sinclair to the original scheme, way back in 2011:

It was a nice conceit. I would be paying, by direct debit, for the privilege of trundling around […] as a mobile sandwich-board for a group of investment bankers.


* This is wilful parachronism: ‘Transport for London is the present successor to the mantle and has persuaded most Londoners [my emphasis] to call it TfL rather than London Transport’ (Brewer’s Dictionary of London Phrase and Fable).