Snipe - The Scoop

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Embassies fight it out in a Congestion 'Cold War'

Transport for London will today publish a league table detailing some £23 million worth of congestion charge penalties which remain unpaid by foreign embassies.

At the top of the group is the American embassy who have racked up an impressive £2,735,245. 

The Russian Federation have also worked hard, pushing the Japanese into third place with £1,849,260 in unpaid fines.

Of course when Ken Livingstone labeled the US ambassador a 'chiselling little crook' for refusing to pay the charge, he was swiftly reported to the Standards Board for England.

However, when Boris Johnson said that he would gladly slap an asbo on offending ambassadors, the resultant controversy mysteriously failed to surface.

Speaking at his first People's Question Time in Bromley, the Mayor said:

"I think it's the Geneva convention which prevents me from slapping an asbo on every single diplomat who fails to pay, I think it's an unbelievable scandal.

"The Swiss typically have come forward with trying to broker some kind of deal, I'm very keen that whatever deal we do should reflect the fact that these people are using London's roads. This is not a tax, this is a charge for the use of our roads, and I believe the diplomatic community should have the decency to pay it. I intend to stick to that decision."

The disagreement centres on whether the charge is considered a tax or a toll. Under international law, embassies are exempt from paying local taxation.

The charges if paid in full, could scale down the size of Boris's planned fares increase or give new hope to the transport projects recently abandoned by the Mayor.

However, with no new powers to resolve the claims, it will take more than one of Boris's imaginary asbos to bring the dispute to an end.


-Update- Hélène Mulholland now has more.

14 comments:

Will said...

The best thing about Boris getting elected was that the eight years of London tories suffering a sense of humour failure was finally brought to an end. Otherwise, it's all been a great experiment in doublethink. Now we know that nazi jokes are bad, and stalinist jokes good.

Anonymous said...

The data was in fact released in response to a question to the mayor from Labour Assembly member Murad Qureshi:

Embassies
Question No: 2569 / 2008
Murad Qureshi
Can you update us on all embassies in London and what is owed by them in congestion charges to TfL?

Answer from the Mayor:

The attached spreadsheet (Appendix A) provides details of the total number of unpaid charges for each Embassy and an estimate of the total value of unpaid charges and penalties arising from non payment of the charge by each Embassy.
I am disappointed that some Embassies continue to refuse to pay the charge even though TfL and the Government’s position on this matter is clear and consistent.

However, it is pleasing to note that 77% of Embassies (99 out of 128) pay the charge on a regular basis as they are required to do.

As I have indicated before, I am keen to get all Embassies complying with the scheme as they should. TfL will continue to engage directly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and those Embassies that refuse to pay.

The Troll said...

You're quite right (Murad?). I got the information from the written answers. I was going to add a link once they appeared on the GLA website but they haven't been put up yet.

Anonymous said...

"You're quite right (Murad?)."

No, not Murad. Just an interested bystander.

The Troll said...

I was just teasing. Full credit should be given to Murad for asking the question though - wherever he is.

The Troll said...

Ah, I've just noticed that Murad is currently in the Assembly chamber. Murad, you are absolved.

yorksranter said...

And it's the Vienna Convention that governs the status of embassies and diplomats.

But that's far too much to expect from Boris.

Rayyan said...

Lazy day - how much does it all add up to, and what could it be spent on?

The Troll said...

It adds up to £23,120,389. To give you some context, Boris said today that if the government doesn't provide an additional £15 million the East london Line Extension will not go ahead.

Tom said...

Hear, hear. Post coming up on that later.

Rob said...

I'm not surprised that the "asbo" comment generated less controversy than Ken describing Robert Tuttle as a "chiselling little crook". That's surely a whole other level of offensiveness and I'm not sure why he singled out the US Ambassador for personal abuse when other nations have the same policy.

I assume Barack Obama will be appointing a new Ambassador early next year, so maybe that will lead to a change of policy. I'm sure he will want to thank Boris for his fullsome support!

The Troll said...

Well you would hope so wouldn't you. If it wasn't for Boris's endorsement we would surely have President Mccain now ;)

Mind you I can't say I see any substantial difference in offensiveness, between the comments other than the fact that nobody takes Boris's jibes very seriously (there's nothing that a ruffle of his locks won't solve).

Singling out the Americans is also understandable given the fact that their fines are so much larger than anyone elses and the general sense, that if the leaders of the free world are doing something, then it must be okay for others to do the same.

Personally I don't find either Boris or Ken's comments particularly offensive. If the Mayor of London isn't annoying their own party and getting on the nerves of world leaders, (yes the Chinese included) then what really is the point of having them at all?

Tom said...

"why he singled out the US Ambassador for personal abuse"

Because he's a chiselling little crook. This is the man whose rise from being a car salesman in California to being the USA's representative at the Court of St. James was apparently in no way related to the large donations he made to the Republican Party.

I felt rather insulted by that, and that on arrival a man who'd made his money out of cars decided he didn't want to contribute his whack to the costs of weaning London off cars hardly helped his case.

prj45 said...

American Embassy refuses to pay outstading congestion charge fines because it percives it as a tax:

Boris Johnson, "I think it's the Geneva convention which prevents me from slapping an asbo on every single diplomat who fails to pay, I think it's an unbelievable scandal.

The Swiss typically have come forward with trying to broker some kind of deal, I'm very keen that whatever deal we do should reflect the fact that these people are using London's roads. THIS IS NOT A TAX [my capitals], this is a charge for the use of our roads, and I believe the diplomatic community should have the decency to pay it. I intend to stick to that decision"

WEZ to be scrapped:

Boris Johnson, "I have asked Transport for London to begin the legal process to remove this charge with all convenient speed ... We can LIFT THIS TAX [my captials] within 14 months at the absolute outside and hopefully earlier than that."

Has Boris Johnson just given the embassies an excuse not to pay their outstanding fines?