Livingstone shifts on Tube plan

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The Independent Online

Labour looked certain to take up important posts in Ken Livingstone's new administration last night after the Mayor of London revised his hardline opposition to part-privatisation of the Tube.

The party's decision to work with Mr Livingstone came after he agreed to call in a panel of independent experts to assess the Government's plans for the London Underground.

Nicky Gavron, a leading Labour member of the Greater London Assembly, is likely to announce today that she will become deputy mayor. Lord Harris of Haringey, who was yesterday elected leader of the Labour group and led the tough negotiations with the Mayor, isexpected to chair the Metropolitan Police Authority.

The breakthrough came after a day of intense negotiations between Ms Gavron, Lord Harris and Mr Livingstone at the GLA's headquarters in Westminster.

The Mayor issued a statement late last night making clear that he would agree to demands to bring in an independent panel to assess John Prescott's public-private partnership (PPP) for the Tube.

"The Mayor has decided to set up an independent panel of experts to scrutinise the various proposals for financing the modernisation of the Underground including bonds, government grants and the PPP," the statement said. "Following the publication of the panel's report, the Mayor will, in consultation with the Assembly, determine how to proceed."

The panel will base its judgement on the five principles set out in the Labour manifesto that the option must leave the Tube publicly owned, be completed quickly and on time, be certified by the Health and Safety Executive, provide long-term security and offer the best deal for Londoners.

Labour sources claimed that the Mayor's decision to agree to the policy of his defeated rival, Frank Dobson, proved that he had softened his stance on the Tube.

However, one Livingstone insider pointed out that his own manifesto argued for a scheme that would "modernise the Tube by the cheapest possible method".

The Labour group will announce its final intentions today after a meeting of all its members considers the detail of the Mayor's written statement.

Mr Livingstone's hand was forced by an announcement by the Labour group earlier in the day that it would not work with him unless he backed down over the PPP. The group said it remained a distinctive body with its own manifesto but was willing to co-operate in the interests of Londoners.

Crucially, Labour demanded that as part of any agreement to fill the deputy mayor position, the Mayor should step back from "confrontation" and his threat to take the Government to court over the PPP scheme.