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The News Line: Editorial NAO report exposes the scandal of the Southern GTR Rail franchise TRAIN staff and angry commuters have been protesting up and down the country at the 3.4% hikes in rail fares. Many commuters have seen their season tickets go up by more than £100. Many families have been driven out of London because of spiralling rents, others have experienced a huge pay cut as they must travel into London to earn their wages.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash told News Line: ‘We have got one of the most expensive rail services in Europe. It is all down to privatisation. The answer is re-nationalisation, so the money goes to the benefit of the passengers and not the profits of the private companies.

‘The private companies are cutting costs to maximise profits, closing down ticket offices and taking guards off the train. We want to keep the guard on the train to protect passenger safety. It’s a national scandal that private profit comes before public safety on our rail network.’

The RMT’s position has been reinforced by a just published damning National Audit Office report which details the Department for Transport’s (DfT) abject failure with regards to the Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) franchise.

The report notes that between September 2014 and September 2017 GTR passengers have experienced the worst overall service performance on the national rail network in terms of the number of trains arriving on time.

The NAO concluded that the ‘Department for Transport made decisions on this franchise, the cumulative effect of which have negatively impacted on passengers. The NAO cannot therefore conclude that the Department has to date achieved value for money from this franchise.’ The Department also expects to pay Govia Thameslink for the additional costs, potentially amounting to tens of millions of pounds a year.

The NAO found that ‘The Department did not seek sufficient assurance that Govia Thameslink would have enough train drivers when it took on the franchise.’ Around 56,000 cancellations were related ‘to the availability of drivers and other train crew’. An issue which the union maintains is wholly down to poor workforce planning and corner-cutting by the company.

The Department knew the scale of Driver Only Operation proposed by GTR would increase the risk of industrial action but it did not fully evaluate the possible effects on passengers before awarding the contract, nor did it ask GTR to do so.

The union says that at no point have the company tried to negotiate seriously with RMT officials throughout the current dispute, despite the union reaching lasting agreements in Scotland and Wales on the same issue.

The Department also negotiated a settlement for Govia Thameslink to buy out its liability in respect of the performance sums in the contract years September 2016 to September 2018. The NAO also reveal the Department and GTR are currently secretly negotiating a revised remedial plan and interim performance measures.

Responding to the NAO report RMT General Secretary Cash said: ‘This dynamite report blows wide open the whole scandal of the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern franchise and the scale of government collusion with the private train operators, which has bled the taxpayer dry while giving this basket-case operation a free hand to slash staff and run services into the ground.

‘The report makes it clear that tens of millions of pounds of public money, cash which could have guaranteed a guard on the trains and delivered decent, accessible rail services, was instead wasted propping up the private owners while they presided over the worst rail franchise in the country. . .

‘The solution is simple. GTR should be stripped of the franchise for gross and repeated failures, the routes should be taken under public ownership and the cash-led cuts to safety critical staffing should be halted and reversed.’

The government is however clearly not going to do anything of the sort. The only solution is for the trade unions to bring down the Tories with a general strike to bring in a workers government and socialism!


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