In these troubled times a major city has to be prepared for disasters, natural and man made. The way the heavy snow was handled in London was poor, despite the sterling efforts of many individuals working in public services. The London Assembly's snow report said that:
'The Mayor is the Chair of Transport for London and has strategic responsibility for a wide range of public services in London including the Police and Fire Brigade. His role as Chair of Transport for London, in part, is to challenge senior officers about decisions that have been taken to help ensure that everything is being done to respond to unusual situations.
'It is reasonable to question whether the Mayor could have been given the opportunity to be involved at an earlier stage in coordinating the response to what was the most severe disruption to the capital’s transport network in decades.'
Neither Boris nor Ken seem(ed) to relish the accountability of being Mayor – they don't seem to value cross examination by Assembly members. Ken had many bad sessions and yesterday was Boris' turn with MPs – the plentiful coverage has focussed on the Mayor's behaviour (we all have bad days and personally i would rather have colourful politicians) – but that isn't as interesting as his final answer about alertness to a problem and speed of response.
The snow fell on Sunday evening (1 February) following a severe weather warning at 1130 on Sunday. On Monday we all woke up to a whiteout and transport chaos. It became clear during the Sunday evening to the various transport authorities and TfL that there were increasingly bad problems. The buses were called off at 1210am on Monday. The Assembly report makes it clear that niether Ken nor Boris had put warning systems in place to escalate problems to the Mayor's team. The Gold Command emergency structure isn't activated by snow.
The Mayor's final answer to the committee (see video clip) perturbs me – on the Sunday evening it appears that he looked out of the window, saw heavy snow falling and went to bed, not engaging with his officials until 0700 the next day – by which time London was totally shut down. We don't know any more as it was at that point the Mayor left the session.
Leadership in responding to crisis is about speed of action at the top and making sure that you have the systems in place to enable you to do so. London did not have either as the snow crisis began to build.