An alternative story behind Southern Railway’s constant cancellations of commuter services continues to emerge. As our transport correspondent, JEREMY CLACKSON, reports, some train drivers say that the Department for Transport is partially responsible, as the Tory Government experiments with our railways
Yesterday, we reported how claims by Southern Railway that “staff sickness” was the cause of recent delays and cancellations to commuter services could be false, with rail employees saying that drivers were being prevented from taking out trains on overtime. Train drivers claim this is being done to undermine staff who are members of trades unions.
Another driver has posted a comment in response to David Boyle’s report last week, which confirms elements of the account. Again, the comments have been published anonymously, for fear of retribution by the Govia Thameslink (GTR) management, who operate Southern services.
This goes some way to explaining why train operator Southern appears to behave in contempt of their passengers without any real fear of losing their franchise – making the repeated threats from Croydon South MP Chris Philp empty ones.
The railway employee lays some responsibility for the handling of the public transport system with the Government, and the Department for Transport, which is sometimes known as DafT. With good reason…
“I know the current situation is extremely infuriating but it needs to be looked at from two sides,” the train driver writes. “Firstly, the current agreement between Govia and the DfT.
“This is in fact a management contract which differs from every other agreement throughout the country. All other train operating companies (TOCs) hold something called a franchise agreement. Every one is different, but essentially they are responsible for the day-to-day running of that network. They have specific requirements they have to meet but they generally make the decisions.
“However with Govia’s management agreement, they have no control or make no decisions. All the terms, targets and plans have been set out by the DfT. Govia are simply there to implement the changes.
“This is unique and has occurred for one reason and one reason only. A test bed for the rest of the country.
“In 2011… the McNulty Report set out a number of wide-ranging proposals for cutting costs on the railways. Since then, the DfT has been putting together a plan to ‘streamline’ costing on the railway. One of the major changes was to rid the network of guards (along with many other members of staff).
“What we are seeing (along with Arriva Wales and First Scotrail) is the beginning of these changes. Many people have asked why MPs and media outlets have been so quiet on the matter and why Govia have no fear of losing the franchise.
“This is because they are purely the axemen.
“The DfT will not remove them as they want the company to be the face of the changes, to avoid huge public objections aimed at the Conservative Government. The senior management are purely being told what to do. It’s written in their agreement.
“I have been through the 668 pages of the agreement and they are given financial bonuses based on the inline notation of the changes…”
The driver says that, “The Conservatives see this as a perfect opportunity to kill of the unions. No staff = no members = no unions.”
The train driver states that Southern depends on under-staffed services, with employees taking up the slack through working on rest days and overtime. This under-staffing, and a prolonged decline in morale, has resulted in a situation reached now, and made worse because the company is seeking to “punish” those union members who took strike action in April by denying them overtime working.
“For years the franchise has relied upon staff working rest days to cover the basic timetable. It is estimated the company is operating at 80 per cent staffing levels. Hence you have the current problem. The company has indeed removed rest day working from striking staff members, causing the problems you are experiencing.
“This will unfortunately never change, to conserve profits. They would rather be under-staffed and pay overtime when needed than have the required number staff and have some being ‘spare’ when staff sickness or holiday levels are low.”
All of which, of course, the Department for Transport will know very well. And that means that the rail minister, Claire Perry, will know about it, too.
Croydon South’s Chris Philp has portrayed himself as a man of action on behalf of his constituents, calling for Southern to lose its “franchise”, and having meetings with DafT and with ministers, including Perry.
Didn’t Philp’s senior Tory colleague mention any of this to him at their meetings?
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