Khan urged to apologise for ‘misleading’ Ulez adverts

City Hall Conservatives tell mayor to apologise and “take responsibility” for findings published by the UK’s advertising watchdog, reports Noah Vickers, Local Democracy Reporter

Sadiq Khan is expanding Ulez this summer
Sadiq Khan is expanding Ulez this summer

Sadiq Khan has been urged by City Hall Conservatives to apologise and “take responsibility” for findings published by the UK’s advertising watchdog, which found that some adverts about the benefits of the expanded Ulez were misleading.

The London Assembly’s Tory group leader Neil Garratt told the Labour mayor that because “these advertisements were funded by the taxpayer, we believe you should now apologise for your role in misleading Londoners”.

But Khan’s spokesperson responded to Garratt by insisting there was “nothing misleading about the content” of the adverts and that they were “clearly presented”.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) upheld complaints earlier this month in relation to three adverts created by Transport for London (TfL) and one advert from the Greater London Authority (GLA). They were put out ahead of the Ulez expansion in August last year to cover every London borough.

The ASA ruled that the four adverts – consisting of three radio adverts and one newspaper advert – “were likely to mislead” because the basis of the claims they made were not “given”, “explained” or “adequately substantiated”.

These included a claim about the benefits of the Ulez in central London, a claim about most air pollution related deaths occurring in outer London, and a claim about pollution levels inside cars.

Responding to the findings at the time, a mayoral spokesperson and a TfL spokesperson both said that the ASA’s conclusions rested on a “minor technical point”, and both pointed out that the ASA was not challenging the science behind the adverts, only the way in which it had been worded in some cases.

In his letter to the mayor, Garratt said he and his Conservative colleagues were “disappointed to see your spokesperson suggest the ASA were incorrect and refer to your attempt to mislead Londoners as a ‘minor technical point’”.

He added: “We would, therefore, urge you to take responsibility for the disingenuous adverts, accept the ASA’s verdict and apologise to Londoners for having misled them.”

Approached for a response to Garratt’s letter, a spokesperson for Khan repeated some of the points the Tory group leader had taken issue with, saying: “There is nothing misleading about the content of the GLA and TfL ads. The ASA is not contesting this science, but the wording of the adverts. The information was based on robust scientific evidence and was clearly presented.

“The ruling from the ASA is about minor technical points in the adverts. We will take this into account when drafting the wording and referencing in any future adverts.

“We are confident the adverts were accurate and not misleading. They went through a robust process and were approved by air quality policy experts and Radiocentre [the industry body for radio adverts].”

The ASA’s verdict was delivered in response to more than 500 complaints into a total of six TfL adverts and 38 complaints into the GLA advert. City Hall Conservatives were among those to have submitted complaints. Overall, three out of six grounds for complaint among the collection of adverts were upheld, and three were not.

The claims deemed by the ASA as “likely to mislead” were:

  • A claim made in a TfL newspaper advert and a TfL radio advert that the first Ulez zone, which launched in April 2019, had reduced nitrogen dioxide (NO2) by almost half in central London. The ASA said this figure was based on “the calculated difference between a non-Ulez and an Ulez scenario”. TfL calculated the NO2 reduction using data showing how levels were impacted not only by traffic, but also by factors outside of Ulez, such as a national shift to newer, less polluting cars. The ASA said the figure was likely to be understood by listeners to mean a straightforward reduction recorded by air quality sampling “before the introduction of the charges and since the implementation of the central London Ulez”.
  • A claim made in a TfL radio advert that “most air pollution related deaths actually occur in Outer London areas”. The ASA took issue with the fact that the number of pollution-related deaths attributed to outer London – 2,896 at the lowest estimate, and 3,321 at the highest – was “based on modelled estimates” rather than actual deaths.
  • A claim made in a GLA radio advert that “according to research, one of the most polluted places in London is inside your car”. The ASA said the claim had not been “adequately substantiated” and was “likely to materially mislead”.

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