The Conservative Party should take down a website “masquerading” as fact-checking Transport for London’s (TfL) finances, Sadiq Khan has said.
The London Mayor said the site – which accuses him of presiding over “out-of-control” waste – peddled “fake news”.
The site does not carry Conservative branding but describes itself as being published “on behalf of Shaun Bailey”, the party’s mayoral election candidate.
Mr Bailey says Mr Khan has “bankrupted” TfL and Londoners “deserve to know”.
On Sunday, the transport body secured a £1.8bn government bailout to keep Tube and bus services running until March next year despite a financial shortfall.
Ahead of next May’s mayoral election, Labour and the Conservatives are arguing over whether current or historical mismanagement – or a reduction in passengers due to coronavirus – is to blame for TfL’s problems.
The Conservative Party’s Transport for London Bailout website gives the address of its publisher as 4 Matthew Parker Street, London, which is the party’s headquarters.
It states that TfL has “wasted” £9.56bn since 2016, when Mr Khan became mayor, including on pension “overpayments”, debt interest and lost revenue caused by delays to the Crossrail project.
Meanwhile, losses in fares during the coronavirus crisis have amounted to only £1.6bn, it adds.
But Labour disputes the £9.56bn figure, arguing that Mr Khan “significantly improved the financial situation of TfL” in the four years leading up to the pandemic.
It says the pension scheme has not changed during his time as mayor, that much of TfL’s debt was accrued under Mr Khan’s predecessor Boris Johnson, and that problems with Crossrail were also detected during Mr Johnson’s mayoralty.
Labour also says TfL’s cash reserves were “were used up quickly as fare income fell by 90%” during the pandemic.
Mr Khan’s spokesperson said: “This website is fake news masquerading as ‘facts’. The only reason TfL needs government support is because Covid-19 decimated our fares income, as has happened to train operators across the country.”
They added that before the pandemic Mr Khan “was clearing up the financial mess left by Boris Johnson’s mayoralty”, which lasted from 2008 to 2016.
But Mr Bailey responded by tweeting: “Londoners deserve to know the facts. Khan has bankrupted TfL and cost £9.56bn.”
He added: “Khan is scared of the facts… who could be surprised?”
The London mayoral election was due to happen in May this year, but it was delayed by a year because of coronavirus.
In the run-up to last December’s general election, the Conservatives were criticised for rebranding their press office’s Twitter account as “factcheckUK” for the duration of a TV debate between party leader Boris Johnson and Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn.
At the time, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: “It was pegged to CCHQ (Conservative Campaign Headquarters). No-one looking at it for a split second will have been fooled – they can see it’s from CCHQ.”
The BBC has contacted the Conservative Party for further comment on the Transport for London Bailout site.