The Gibb Report into Southern Rail
This week I had a meeting with the Transport Secretary to discuss - once again - the local rail service.
Southern’s service was appalling last year, and there are still problems, but it is interesting to note that its performance has steadily improved over the past six months.
Its Public Performance Measure is now at 85 per cent, compared to a dismal 62 per cent at the end of last year.
It’s more than ever clear that the principal - though not the only - cause of disruption last year was industrial action by the unions.
The unions didn’t only disrupt the service on strike days. As a review by Chris Gibb of the Southern Rail Network published last week pointed out, there were inexplicably high sickness rates, too. Staff were ‘working to rule’.
No jobs were to be lost and no pay was to be cut. And now we’ve learned that the rail drivers’ union, ASLEF, has turned down a 23.8 per cent pay rise offer over four years.
The increase would take a Southern train driver’s basic pay to £60,683 a year for a four-day, 35-hour week, amounting to a near-£12,000 pay rise from £49,001.
And with many drivers working a fifth day at an overtime rate of 25 per cent, it would take a four year annual salary to around £70,000.
That will stick in the throat of many long suffering commuters on earnings considerably less than who have had no pay rise at all.
The unions’ safety claims are spurious, since trains with driver only operated doors are run across the network, and on the same lines, by the same company, driven by members of the same union.
And guards who no longer operate doors are still on Southern trains, just doing other duties.
I certainly don’t exonerate Southern or Network Rail, and neither does the Gibb report, which states that all the elements of the system have been under strain, including unreliable infrastructure, a complicated timetable and overcrowded stations and services.
The report recommended an immediate £300 million in the rail infrastructure, and the Government announced this in January.
This is on top of the £6 billion London Bridge upgrade, work on which has caused some of the problems.
Passenger journeys on Southern’s major routes into London have doubled in the 12 years since I became an MP. We need further investment in the South's transport infrastructure, including rail, to cope with the increasing demand.
But we also need the unions to desist from industrial action which is simply unjustifiable .