[Andrew Rosindell in the Chair]
The subject of this debate is future Government funding for Transport for London and station staffing levels. They are matters of considerable concern to many London MPs, but they do extend beyond the capital. Let me first outline the reasons why we sought this debate.
As a result of the Government’s austerity drive, Transport for London’s general grant will, according to its December 2013 business plan, be cut from £1 billion in 2013-14 to £835 million in 2014-15, reaching a low of £629 million in 2015-16 before recovering slightly to £684 million by 2020-21. On 21 November 2013, London Underground, backed by its owner, TfL, and the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, announced a policy called “Fit For The Future—Stations”, which includes closing every ticket office at all 240 stations, cutting 950 of the 5,750 station staff positions, which equates to a 17% cut, and removing supervisors and senior staff from many stations. At the same time as revealing station staffing cuts and ticket office closures, London Underground announced with a big fanfare a separate policy of 24-hour operation at weekends on some tube lines. The timing of that announcement was greeted by the staff of London Underground and others as quite a cynical move designed to distract attention from the plans to close ticket offices and slash station staff numbers.
The reactions of my constituents have been remarkable, and other Members may have seen the same. People cannot understand why they are paying more in fares while station staff and ticket offices are being cut. I can understand their being perplexed.
On 18 December, the Labour transport spokesman on the Greater London authority, Valerie Shawcross, asked the following question of the Mayor:
“Will you guarantee that all LUL stations will be staffed at all times?”
The Mayor responded by saying that officers were drafting a response that would be available shortly. We still have not had that response. The fact that the Mayor has still not been able to provide an unequivocal answer suggests that that guarantee cannot be given. Following the King’s Cross fire, a legal requirement was introduced that there be a minimum of two staff at every station, but that applies to sub-surface stations only, so the others are extremely vulnerable.
The business plan also sets out that London Underground will cut the frequency of essential maintenance checks, still plans to introduce driverless trains at some unidentified point in future, is not filling posts, despite large numbers of Londoners looking for jobs, and seems to be plugging the gaps in staffing with casual workers more frequently. My constituency has a railway estate and I represent a number of London Underground workers. To be told a month before Christmas that they would not have a job not only shocked them, but caused real consternation and, understandably, considerable anger. The two rail unions that represent staff at London Underground—the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers and the Transport Salaried Staffs Association—rightly consulted their members in the light of representations that they received. On Friday 10 January, the RMT issued the following statement:
“RMT members have voted by 77% for strike action and by an even bigger majority for action short of a strike. The results will now be considered by a meeting of the union’s executive.”
Dates will be set and there will be strike action unless meaningful negotiations with the Mayor take place. RMT general secretary, Bob Crow, said:
“RMT members on London Underground have voted by a massive majority for both strike action and action short of a strike in a dispute which is wholly about cash-led cuts”
“plans that would see the axing of nearly a thousand safety critical jobs and the closure of ticket offices at a time when the tube network is under growing pressure from customer demand and needs more staff and not less to ensure safe and efficient operation.”
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. I must register an interest as a former employee of London Transport, where I worked as a booking clerk. I can certainly confirm that security and safety are most important for station staff when looking after passengers. The cuts will create fear in passengers’ minds and they will be reluctant to use the underground, so that they do not have to face criminals. A few weeks ago at Northfields station in my constituency, a staff member was attacked and it was only because other staff were there to assist that he was saved and a disaster was averted.
My hon. Friend is experienced and knows what it is like to deal with customers face to face on the underground. He knows the insecurities of travellers and staff and outlines a recent, concrete example of what can happen.
Let me finish what Bob Crow said:
“Not only are a thousand posts on the line but staff remaining are going to be forced through the humiliating and degrading experience of re-applying for their own jobs—the same staff who have been hailed as heroes when the tube has faced emergency situations”,
which echoes my hon. Friend’s point. Bob Crow continued:
“That is a kick in the teeth for the loyal and experienced tube workforce who have kept services running safely and efficiently under constant pressure from weight of demand and a creaking and under-resourced infrastructure.”
He also said—I add this as it may prevent some carping or questions later—that before anyone starts
“shouting the odds they should take note of the fact that the turn out in this ballot was higher than the last mayoral and GLA elections and the vote in favour massively outstrips anything that those same politicians can even dream of in terms of a popular mandate.”
Those are the views of rank and file tube workers.
On 9 January, the TSSA issued the following press release:
“A strike ballot of front line station staff was called today by the TSSA rail union in protest at plans to close 260 Tube ticket offices and axe nearly 1,000 jobs.
It gave London Underground seven days notice of a ballot which will start next Friday, January 17 and end on January 27. Any subsequent industrial action could start from February 3 in the event of a yes vote.
Manuel Cortes, general secretary, blamed the ballot on the ‘reckless’ behaviour of London Mayor Boris Johnson who he said was refusing to meet the unions over their genuine fears for safety and security with the wholesale closure of every ticket office.
‘It was the Mayor who came into office in 2008 with a firm pledge to keep open every ticket office on the grounds of keeping passengers safe and secure at all times.
‘Now he wants to scrap the lot, claiming there will be no problems because he will keep staff on station platforms, those that keep their jobs, that is.
‘He wants to scrap permanent station supervisors who are in charge of evacuations and replace them with mobile supervisors who will travel from station to station.
‘But he will not answer the question; “How mobile can you be if all lines are in lockdown because of an emergency and nothing is moving whatsoever?”’.
He called on the Mayor to end his six year ban on meeting the rail unions”—
he has refused to meet them for six years!—
“and to sit down with them instead to work out a solution which would guarantee ‘the safety and protection of all passengers at all times’.”
I repeat what the Mayor said in 2008, which was very specific. He said that there was no
“financial, strategic or common sense”
in the closures that were threatened at the time, and promised:
“We will halt all such ticket office closures immediately”—
That is a broken promise. It is a broken promise not only to the staff, but to the travelling passengers.
Passengers and the general public are anxious. A large poll—a face-to-face survey by Survation of 1,027 London underground users in 23 tube stations—showed widespread concern about the threat of ticket office closures: 71% of London Underground passengers interviewed said that they were “quite concerned” or “very concerned” about their station no longer having staffed ticket offices. Concerns were particularly strong among tourists travelling on the underground, with 81% saying that they would be “quite” or “very concerned” in the event of ticket office closures—no doubt because of their reliance on the offices for general information.
My hon. Friend has called a very important debate today on something that is affecting all our constituents who use the underground. Does he share my particular concern for women who are travelling, perhaps to and from work late at night or with their children? They will not have a sense of safety and security in underground stations and on platforms. They need to have that reassurance that it is safe to travel and that they will have support when they need it, should anything happen.
Safety and security is a critical issue. Later, I will come on to some of the statistics that we have looked at, including research specific to women.
Perhaps the Minister will pass back to the Mayor of London that the same Survation survey found that 49% of underground passengers who were resident in Greater London would be “much less likely” or “somewhat less likely” to vote for a candidate for Mayor of London who went back on a promise to keep ticket offices open. That is what Boris Johnson pledged in his 2008 manifesto. That figure increased to 56% among those who voted for Boris Johnson in the previous election. People feel strongly, and they will be willing to express their concerns at the ballot box in due course. There is also a petition; 20,000 people have signed a 38 Degrees e-petition calling on the Mayor to keep his manifesto promise.
Political opposition to the cuts includes Labour and the Greens, and there has been cross-party support, including from some Liberal Democrat MPs, for early-day motion 787 proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn). That sets out the detail of the cuts in an objective fashion, but its conclusion is to call on the Mayor of London to reconsider his proposals and to keep the ticket offices open. One Liberal withdrew his name in due course, but that was a tube line to Damascus conversion as a result of promotion to ministerial office. [Interruption.] I cannot believe that others would do that.
For opposition from the wider community, let me run through some of the broad range of groups that have expressed concerns. The cuts have been opposed by the TUC and by disability organisations, in particular Transport for All, which is the voice for disabled people in London on transport issues, and Disabled People Against Cuts. The National Pensioners Convention has now expressed its concern about the implications of the cuts.
Threats to passenger services are real. Let me run through what the cuts mean in concrete terms. Now, every passenger may depend on staffed ticket offices when the machines are out of order or their Oyster card has stopped working. Under the Mayor’s plans, passengers will have nowhere to turn during such everyday situations. They will have to rely on their Oyster card or contactless payment cards to travel, or they will have to pay higher prices for paper tickets. Passengers will have to buy tickets online, if they can, or at shops, and they will have to find the correct ticket on the self-service machines. Experienced tube workers have said clearly that there are real fears that errors or problems with tickets will no longer be resolved at stations, because there will be no ticket office and of course the shops that sell tickets cannot help with such problems—nor is that their role.
The role of the staff at the station is not only to sell the tickets or clean the station, but to assist the passengers, whether children, women, the disabled or visitors who come to the city and do not understand the workings of the underground system, such as moving through the stations from one platform to another. Staff are guiding passengers. Once they are taken away, individuals and groups will be suffering. I hope that my hon. Friend agrees that once the cut has been made, visitors and passengers will feel that they are not getting such services.
My hon. Friend is right that certain categories of passengers will be affected the most. To finish on the subject of tickets, however, the Survation survey found that there was little confidence about relying solely on the automatic ticket-vending machines: 52% said that they had been unable to buy tickets in the past, due to the machine being broken. Obtaining information on the correct price and travel advice are also important, as my hon. Friend says.
New forms of ticket retail have become increasingly available, but surveys have shown that passengers value the face-to-face contact with staff, even for simply navigating around the complex ticket pricing system. The Department for Transport’s own review of ticketing acknowledges Passenger Focus research that found that
“passengers are more confident with ticket offices than any other sales channel of obtaining the best value ticket for their journey”.
In response to announcements in recent years about main line railway ticket office closures and reduced opening hours, Passenger Focus stated that
“passengers really value the presence of staff at stations. Any reduction in ticket-office opening hours and the subsequent withdrawal of booking staff often reduces the overall facilities available at stations… We fear that this could lead to passengers feeling less safe at stations and paying more for their tickets than they should.”
I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, and I echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) in praising him for bringing the subject before the House. I also associate myself with my former colleague in London Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma)—he and I were bus conductors together. I speak from a position of some knowledge in this matter.
None of the tube stations in my constituency are fully accessible. It may not be the duty of station staff to assist people up and down stairs, but it is something that they do, and they do it willingly. How in heaven’s name are people struggling with buggies, on walking sticks or with walking aids going to manage without that good will if the people, however willing, simply are not there?
That is the running theme through all the comments we have had.
The Campaign for Better Transport stated:
“Plans to close ticket offices and cut staff in stations will mean passengers are left to fend for themselves when buying a ticket and will result in people paying over the odds for their journey.”
If there are 17% fewer staff to help passengers, then what? As my hon. Friends have said, staff help with incidents, accidents, advice on what route to take, directions to local venues or addresses, disability access needs, lost property and yes, lost children and everything else, as well as service updates and many more issues that passengers cannot deal with on their own or via a machine. The remaining station staff, to be frank, will be less available to help with travel and other inquiries, because they will be busy helping people to use the ticket machines who would have previously have sought help at the ticket office.
Passengers also need some types of help that a station supervisor has to deal with, in particular the more complex issues for a more senior level of staff. Now there is a station supervisor in every station, but under London Underground’s plans, they will be removed from many stations and responsible for a number of stations instead, so that they might have to travel from another station to help passengers. Staff will be expected to work on several stations over a wider area, so they will be less familiar with the area the station is in and they will often be working in isolation.
There will be an impact on efficiency—all the expert evidence that we have collected says exactly that. Station staff play an important role in keeping the trains moving, such as helping the trains to depart promptly, reporting faults and providing information and advice during service disruption. Station staff work with other London Underground staff, such as drivers and service controllers, to keep the tube running. If there are fewer staff in stations, the train service will suffer. The London Underground plans to remove station supervisors from many stations will slow down service recovery during and after disruption.
Station supervisors also play a critical safety role. London Underground plans that such essential staff will be in charge of several stations at the same time, so they will be unable to deal in person with the many safety incidents and issues. It intends to plug some of the gaps in staff coverage with a casualised work force of agency staff, as well as having office staff who occasionally work on stations, away from their normal duties and with minimal training. In many people’s view, that will compromise safety. I agree.
My hon. Friend has obviously focused on the implications for London. I represent a constituency in the midlands, and my real fear is that if Boris Johnson and London Underground get away with these reckless cuts to staffing on stations on the London Underground network today, it will be the midland main line and other surface railway networks around the country tomorrow. Does my hon. Friend share that fear?
My hon. Friend has made a valuable point. What happens in London is usually the example that is then rolled out to the rest of the country. This issue is critical not just for London but nationally. Ministers have a role in this matter, which should not just be left to the Mayor of London.
There are already issues with station staffing as there have been cuts in the past. In outer London, many stations are already neglected and are not well staffed. Transport for London responded to questions from members of the Greater London assembly on this matter by saying that on average stations have to be closed on 120 occasions a year due to staff shortages.
I apologise for arriving only recently and missing the first part of my hon. Friend’s contribution. Is he aware of the situation facing Finsbury Park station? It is almost unique on the network in having no barriers because of its size, and it is grossly overcrowded, with no step-free access. Without staff, the station would turn from being dangerous into being positively lethal because of the number of people crowding on to the platforms every morning trying to get on to very overcrowded trains. The policy is disastrous.
I know the station concerned. My hon. Friend has campaigned on the matter on a number of occasions, and he has liaised with the staff there. Trade unions have raised the issue as well. It is lunacy to start removing staff from stations such as that one.
We have been here before. Some hon. Members might remember previous debates on the issue, because London Underground management in particular do not have a good track record in anticipating passenger need. Members might remember that after axing 800 staff the previous year, in 2010, London Underground was forced to recruit an additional 300 staff as a result of passenger complaints about safety and security and the campaign that a number of Members who are here today waged alongside the trade unions.
My worry is about safety in all its aspects. I am worried about both preventing and tackling terrorist attacks. Adequate staff numbers are absolutely essential both in preventing terror attacks and dealing with the aftermath when they happen.
We all feel under assault as Londoners at the moment because of what is happening to our emergency services. Through the combination of losing staff from stations and the cuts to the fire service and to policing, we feel as if our emergency services are being stretched to breaking point. If we asked the front-line staff, who are the real experts, they would tell us that as well.
Staff on stations play a role in the prevention of terrorist attacks as well as dealing with the aftermath. It is absolutely ironic that the tube staff who were applauded for their heroism during the London bombings are the ones whose jobs are being cut by the Mayor and who are being treated shabbily in the way in which the announcements are being made. I remember the statement from the Transport for London board in July 2005. I will quote from it now:
“The Board would like to express its heartfelt thanks to all TfL staff who worked so professionally and tirelessly in extremely challenging conditions immediately following the attacks. Their selfless actions to help those who had been injured is a testament to the quality and calibre of public transport workers in London.”
It is those staff whose jobs are now at risk or are to be cut. Their bravery was also praised in the official inquiry into the bombings. I will quote an extract from The Independent in 2010:
“London Underground staff ignored concerns for their own safety and rushed to help victims of the 7/7 bombings, the inquest into the deaths of the 52 people killed heard”.
I will quote a citation for one member of staff, Mr Falayi, who was at Aldgate station, and was told at the inquest:
“You were very brave and I’m sure the efforts you made, despite the risk to yourself, to save and help people there at that dreadful scene will provide some comfort to those who have either lost people or who themselves were dreadfully injured.”
It is those workers who are now going to lose their jobs, and when those jobs go, it will undermine the safety of the travelling public.
It is not just a question of terrorist attacks; there are also operational accidents. One example is people who go on to the line: in September 2012, a member of station staff jumped on to the line to save a child. During the Notting Hill carnival there was an incident in which the car barriers had broken, but as a result of cuts there were no staff to try to ensure that passengers did not go on to a live line. That demonstrates to management that there are heightened risks of that type of accident once staff are removed from stations.
Turning to the issue of security raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra), in 2012-13, there were 1,897 incidents of violence on the tube. That number is rising. People have commented on the problems caused by cuts to mainline stations. For example, Anthony Smith, the chief executive of Passenger Focus, has said that
“all our research indicates passengers really like the reassurance only the presence of staff can bring. Taking staff away from stations would represent a very short-term, short-sighted saving.”
The Independent Social Research report of 2009, “Passengers’ Perceptions of Personal Security on Public Transport”, said:
“The presence of uniformed staff provided a sense of order and authority, and gave passengers confidence that anti-social behaviour would be challenged. Women and older people in particular were reassured by staffing initiatives, and often commented that seeing staff on trains, stations and at bus stations made them feel safer.”
I will quote another source, the work done by Kerry Hamilton of the university of East London on women and transport in 2005. Many of us have complimented her on that work, and she said that
“women feel more vulnerable to attack and harassment than men and their greater concern with personal security...This deep concern about personal security has important implications for the design of transport interchanges and waiting areas and for staffing levels...Therefore the quality and level of staffing on vehicles and at bus and rail stations is of vital importance.”
A former colleague, Vera Baird QC, was commissioned by the Labour party to write a report called “Everywoman Safe Everywhere”. That report states:
“A significant number of respondents to the consultation raised concerns about cuts to travel budgets and services and the corresponding impact on that could have on women’s perceptions of safety.”
Removal of station and train staff and the closure of ticket offices were chief among those concerns. A 2012 survey showed that 28% of women and 15% of men do not feel safe using London public transport at all times of the day and night. We have to get that message across somehow to Government Ministers and to the Mayor.
There is also an issue with access. I am worried about the increased problems with accessibility that have been mentioned. Ultimately, a station that is accessible for someone with a disability means a station with staff. There is no cheap and staff-free alternative that protects accessibility. Stations must keep their ticket offices open to facilitate information provision and assistance. That was confirmed by a report into the usability of ticket vending machines by Passenger Focus in 2010, which stated:
“Unsurprisingly, passengers with disabilities can find TVMs difficult and frustrating to use and reported various barriers during the interviews”.
A whole series of people came forward to express their concerns. For example, on people with vision impairments, the report said:
“Using TVMs can present a significant challenge for vision-impaired passengers as the nature of their disability can vary significantly…Vision impairments are all different; some people can see better in less light, some can see better in more light, so it’s difficult.”
People need assistance.
Wheelchair users are extremely worried now about what is going to happen. The overriding issue for them is the lack of accessibility of ticket vending machines. The Passenger Focus report on ticket vending machines stated that even machines that are compliant with the Disability Discrimination Act 1995
“can be difficult for some wheelchair users, particularly those who are elderly or lack the upper body strength or mobility to reach the touch screen. Neither of the wheelchair users was able to position themselves close enough to the TVM to use the touch screen in the same way as other respondents. One attempted a side-on approach which got her closer, but she found the twisting motion required to touch the screen awkward and uncomfortable and she still experienced problems with the reach distance.”
There is a threat to the safety of disabled and older people. I bitterly regret to say that many disabled people have experienced hate crimes at stations, and staff are the key to deterring that abuse.
A Survation survey of 1,031 disabled and older people in April 2013 showed that enhancing personal security and safety was ranked consistently as the most important benefit that staff provide to disabled passengers. The response on CCTV is interesting:
“CCTV cameras can never replace the staff in making passengers feel safe.”
I fully agree. In that survey, 27% of respondents claim to have suffered hate crimes or abuse at railway stations, and 25% said they sometimes or often feel unsafe; nine out of 10 passengers thought station staff were generally polite and helpful. Enhancing personal security and safety was consistently ranked top of the range of benefits that station and train staff provide, and 81% of disabled passengers said that reduced staff numbers would make train travel more difficult for them.
I will not labour the point much longer because other hon. Members want to speak, but let me list some organisations that represent disabled people and to which we should listen. The London Visual Impairment Forum said that staff on London
“underground trains are…excellent…If there are cuts to underground station and ticket office staff this could reduce the assistance offered to blind and partially sighted and other disabled passengers.”
Transport For All expressed its opposition, and cited example after example of different forms of disability requiring a personal touch and understanding by another human being, rather than a machine.
The issue is not only about people with disabilities. People with chronic illnesses could previously have got a black cab or even an ambulance to take them to regular appointments, but that has virtually gone. A constituent who had just come out of hospital collapsed on the platform at Swiss Cottage station, and if there had been no staff there, he would have been left entirely without assistance.
Example after example has been given. Thoughtistic, which represents people on the autistic spectrum, says that some people on that spectrum are not capable of using, or willing to use, automated systems, and respond better to personal intervention.
Example after example has been given and submitted to the Mayor for consideration, but he has ploughed ahead. The argument that has come back is that gateway stations—King’s Cross, St Pancras and Victoria—will have one third more staff, but that means that staff will be cut at another 125 smaller tube stations, with just one member of staff at certain stations at certain times of day.
At the moment, London Underground offers disabled and older passengers a turn-up-and-go assistance service, in which it provides help with buying tickets, planning routes and getting to the right platform, without passengers having to book in advance. That assistance gives thousands of disabled Londoners the confidence to travel. Many believe that that will be lost.
The recent introduction of manual boarding ramps at 35 stations opened up many more routes to wheelchair users, but those ramps depend on a member of staff operating them. If the staff cuts go ahead, fewer staff will be able to operate the ramps on top of other tasks. The cuts will be a nightmare for many people who suddenly saw their world opening up as a result of increased accessibility following investment over the past 15 or 16 years. Now, we are denying them that.
There is a fear that without the fixed point of a staffed ticket office, visually impaired people will find it harder to locate staff to assist them. Passengers at stations other than mainline stations will have to find a member of staff somewhere on the platform, if they can find one at all.
There have been contradictory answers to questions tabled in the London assembly and in Parliament. On 18 December 2013, Labour members of the London assembly tabled written questions asking the Mayor what assessment he had made of the impact of the cuts on women, disabled people and older passengers. The answer on 7 January was that officers are drafting a response that will be sent shortly. That was despite the fact that parliamentary questions had been answered by Ministers; they said that London Underground had carried out a quality impact assessment to identify the impact of the Mayor’s proposals, and that it showed that the changes will be positive or neutral for all equality target groups. Either Ministers have got it right, or the Mayor has. Someone should tell us the truth of what has happened with the Mayor’s overall assessment.
There will be dangers to staff and we should not underestimate that. The cuts pose a significant threat to staff safety and morale. The official documentation presented to the unions on the day when the cuts were announced was pretty damning. It said that not only would 1,000 posts be on the line, but the remaining staff would be forced to reapply for their jobs, and in addition would have to work in conditions that even on London Underground’s own assessment will carry a medium risk to their safety. It also said that employees will be
“confused, demoralized or distracted due to uncertainty…during”
the HR process. It continued:
“Although there are lone supervisors today this proposal would mean employees at a lower grade would be working alone and may increase employee perception of vulnerability, especially for minority groups at particular risk of abuse.”
That is where we are at. The level of cuts will put passengers at risk, demoralise staff and undermine the overall service.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, in the conversation about cuts, it has been hugely disappointing that the Mayor has had nothing to say about how alternative revenue might be found? He could lift the borrowing requirements for TfL. He could allow local authorities and the Greater London authority to keep 100% of London property taxes; that might be a way of supporting Transport for London. There are alternatives, and we have not heard enough about them. Does he agree?
Not completely. The alternative, as my right hon. Friend said, is investment, growth, and tax collection. Interestingly, today we received a brief from the London assembly arguing for that specifically. My right hon. Friend’s proposal is supported by the London assembly, and the Mayor should listen, as should the Government.
There is an alternative if we invest, but the growth in the number of passengers must be recognised. London Underground faces cuts not because of falling demand, but the opposite. Since 1996, there has been a 60% increase in passenger numbers. Transport for London’s business plan predicts that passenger journeys will rise by 13.7% from 1.273 billion in 2013-14 to 1.448 billion in 2020-21. The same plan predicts that the population growth in London will be to 10 million in 2030. The alternative to cuts is to accept reality, and that sheer passenger demand will require London Underground to take on more staff, not fewer.
In recent decades, various London Underground contracts were taken over by private companies. That has caused public money to leave the system while bureaucracy and inefficiency has increased. Some of those contracts have since returned to the public sector, as hon. Members know, including those relating to Metronet, Jubilee line train maintenance and London Underground’s power supply. TfL saved £56 million by bringing power supply back into London Underground at a lower than expected cost. It expects that to bring significant savings in future years that will more than offset the initial cost.
Re-integrating Metronet has provided London Underground with an ongoing year-on-year saving; it was £53 million in 2012-13. If TfL re-integrated other elements of London Underground that were previously privatised, it would save significant sums of money. That could include tube lines that are in public ownership but not integrated with the rest of the tube. I am talking about cleaning, catering, ticket machine maintenance, engineering contracts, Northern line train maintenance and recruitment.
Let me finally counter some of the arguments that TfL put forward, some of which are bizarre. TfL has said that only 3% of journeys involve a visit to a ticket office, but that is 100,000 people a day. Even if the majority do not visit ticket offices, it is essential that there is a service for those passengers who do. TfL has said that London Underground’s plan will make its staff more visible around the stations. I find that difficult to believe when 950 staff—17% of existing staff—will be removed. Staff will be scattered around the station, rather than at one location.
On redeploying staff from ticket offices, the crux of the matter is that increasing visibility is incompatible with losing the best part of 1,000 front-line jobs that deal with the London travelling public. It is not just those with special needs and disabilities who will be affected by this proposal; every person travelling on the London underground will suffer a degraded level of service as a result of these proposals.
Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that others wish to speak in this debate. The Front-Bench spokesmen will begin speaking at 3.40 pm. That leaves us with only half an hour for other Members to participate, so will he please draw his comments to a close?
I will conclude by quickly refuting some more of TfL’s arguments. TfL said that other countries’ underground systems manage without staff or ticket offices. The London underground has won international recognition and awards largely due to having station staff and a good service; many other metros do not. If we level the service down, it will undermine the whole level of service. In Washington, which removed all staff and moved to a fully automated system, the press, after another accident, called the lack of safety the “price of parsimony”. TfL said that new technology means that the London underground needs fewer staff. New technology can improve the London underground, but only if it is used alongside, not instead of, staffing. Too often, TfL uses increased mechanisation as an excuse for getting rid of jobs.
Frankly, we need some clarity on all this. The Minister has a role to play in what goes on in London. This debate is an opportunity for us to ask him to intervene. Will he clarify exactly what the discussions were between the Government and the Mayor that led to the decision to make these cuts in this way? Ministers have a role to play and one thing the Minister could do is impress on the Mayor that there has been no public consultation to date on these cuts. It would be helpful if he joined us and urged the Mayor to consult Londoners. We are making a simple request: listen to Londoners. The Minister might be able to help us get some clarity on the contradictory statements by Ministers and the Mayor on the equality impact assessment.
I am really worried about safety. The Minister has a role to play in meeting the Mayor to look at what assessment has been made of safety in light of the threats of terrorist attacks and the potential for accidents. The Mayor has not met the unions for six years. Will the Minister join us in urging the Mayor to meet the unions? Secretaries of State and Ministers of this Government meet trade unions almost daily, including the TUC, the general secretaries, and others from other unions. The Mayor should at least do that, too. He owes that debt to the unions that represent these staff. The Minister could play a valuable role here. If he does not, London MPs will have to play it. We will join in with those campaigns, with passengers and with trade unions, to try to ensure that the staff are protected and our ticket offices stay open.
I had not planned to speak in this debate, but the picture painted by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) differs in almost every respect from the briefing I have had from London Underground. I hope that the Minister will be able to extract the facts when he responds to the debate.
I am an enormous fan of the London underground. I use the tube all the time and it is by far the easiest way of getting round London. It is quicker than buses and is certainly quicker than a car or taxi. I am someone who gets lost very readily at ground level, but I know exactly where I am on the tube. I have four stations in my constituency. Although they are not underground, they are the last four stations on the District line.
Some 1.2 billion journeys were made on the London underground last year. It is an enormous task to get that many people from A to B efficiently, effectively and safely. There are some 3.5 million journeys every day. I pay tribute to the exceptional standards of customer service provided by London Underground during the London Olympics last year. That was a great success and a feather in its cap. It is planning to introduce a new 24-hour service from 2015, and I know from travelling late at night on the underground that the trains are always full. If someone was not wearing a watch, they would not know that it was late at night; it could be any time of day. There is a demand for the service.
The proposals will see more staff in public areas, which is where the tube customers need them. Several scenarios have been described in which passengers will need personal intervention, help or advice from personnel on the stations—passengers such as women travelling alone at night, of whom I am one. I do not happen to feel unsafe, but some people might. Other scenarios include terrorist attacks, people falling on to the line—it is rare, but unfortunately it does happen from time to time—wheelchair users needing help or advice, someone collapsing or falling ill on a station, and someone who is autistic needing things explained to them if they do not understand. In all those scenarios, what is needed is advice, which is more readily available under these proposals. Staff will be in the ticket hall or on the platforms—in the public areas of the stations—rather than behind glass at the ticket office. In those scenarios, the proposals will be an improvement on the current situation.
As we have heard, there are many ways to buy tickets and only 3% of journeys involve a visit to the ticket office. If there were more staff in the ticket hall who were more accessible and could be spoken to, person to person, passengers’ problems might be resolved without the need to go to the ticket office. London Underground said:
“Our core commitment is that all stations will be staffed and controlled at all times when trains are running and that there will be more staff visible and available to help customers.”
That sounds like the sort of thing that is needed and is an improvement on current circumstances. I am not clear why it is being opposed. The briefing continued:
“The current ‘turn up and go’ assistance service for disabled and visually impaired passengers and the disability training given to staff, will continue.”
One thing puzzles me. I have heard a lot from Opposition Members about staff cuts, but London Underground’s briefing states:
“We have made a firm commitment to the staff affected by these changes that no compulsory redundancies will be made and it is our intention that there will be a job for everyone who wants to stay working with LU and who is willing to embrace change.”
I assume that “embrace change” means transferring from back-office jobs and ticket offices, and being available for passengers in public areas, and that sounds like an improvement to the service. From what I have read, the changes will be an improvement, rather than detrimental. The real point of difference is on whether there will be staff cuts, and the briefing from London Underground says that there will be no compulsory redundancies.
To conclude, I quote the London chamber of commerce and industry, which said:
“London businesses want the Tube to provide the best customer service possible.”
We all want that; everyone would agree on that. It continued:
“In an era where less than three percent of Tube journeys involve a visit to a ticket office, it makes sense that this service is provided by staff at ticket machines and on the gateline, not stuck behind a glass panel. LCCI understands London Underground’s practical reforms will increase the number of staff interacting with the public, no station will be left unstaffed.”
I hope that the Minister will extract the facts from the very different account we have heard, so that we understand exactly what is proposed.
As we have heard, 3.5 million journeys are made on the tube every day. Millions of Londoners use the tube every day, and, next to housing, public transport is one of the most important issues for ordinary Londoners’ health and well-being. Londoners have been fortunate: under the visionary stewardship of Ken Livingstone, first as leader of the Greater London Council and then as Mayor of London, millions were invested in London Underground, to do up stations and for new services—notably the Overground line, of which I am a happy user every day. I pay my respects to the people who staff Haggerston station. I congratulate Sir Peter Hendy, whose stewardship of London Underground in good times and bad has been exemplary. The way he delivered and kept London moving during the Olympics has been noted on all sides. Perhaps one day a statue will be raised to him—by public subscription, of course, not paid for by taxpayers.
Until now, I should have said that Transport for London has been able to withstand the worst that Boris Johnson could try to do to it; but now it is proposed, in one fell swoop and without consultation, to close every single ticket office. I listened to the explanations read from the Transport for London briefing of why that is a good idea; but they sounded like the views of people who do not use the underground. People who use it will have seen the queues outside ticket offices every day, particularly on a Monday morning. What are the people who queue up going to do? People who use the underground will know how often the machines do not work or gobble up money; they will understand that even in a relatively small tube station such as Westminster, there are hundreds of tourists whose first language is not English, who need someone to talk to.
It is all well and good to come to the Chamber and read out the Transport for London briefing; we are talking about the realities of London Underground, and the reality for the people who must use it, whether they are regular commuters, people from out of town or the thousands of tourists who throng through tube stations in zones 1 and 2 every day. As the House has already heard, the millions of London commuters whose fares are being ratcheted up do not understand why they are paying more to travel when the level of service may well come down. It is not enough to say, as Transport for London does, that it is because so many people now use Oyster cards. We need to think about out-of-town business, the elderly and disabled, and tourists, and weigh up the promises that there will be more staff on the stations to help commuters.
The first thing to consider is how commuters see the proposal and how much hostility there is to the closing down of every ticket office on the network. Many members of my family have worked in transport, and I would always argue that London Underground is only as good as its staff. Those staff have in good and bad times shown London Underground exemplary loyalty and a deal of flexibility. On 7/7, they showed how brave and committed they were. What are they being given for all those years of commitment—for building the underground service that still serves Londoners so well? The answer is up to 1,000 job losses and on top of that, and in my view worse, a drive to employ more agency and casualised staff. We are moving away from secure, stable jobs that offer a lifetime career to casualised employment. As a general point, I deplore the hollowing out of London’s economy through the replacement of stable—and, yes, unionised—jobs with casualised agency workers. That cannot be in the interests of a stable society and stable employment in London.
I am a regular user of London Transport services and I bow to no one in my respect for what it has achieved, particularly under a Labour leader and then a Labour Mayor—and I am an admirer of Sir Peter Hendy and all his work. However, passengers and staff oppose the cutting of every ticket office without consultation. All the polling shows that the majority of passengers are unhappy. Boris has yet to explain, certainly to London MPs, how the proposal can possibly improve the service. We know that more and more people are using Oyster cards and that Ken Livingstone introduced a smaller programme of closures when he was the Mayor, but now we face the elimination of every ticket office on the network. That cannot be right. I shall fight the closures on behalf of ordinary Londoners, staff and a London that works—a stable community that offers jobs and life chances to its citizens. That is the only kind of London that has a future in the 21st century.
I repeat my apology for missing the beginning of the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell). I have a brief time to speak, and want to express my admiration for the people who work for London Underground. It carried 4 million passengers in a day during the Olympics, and despite the best advice of the Evening Standard in the run-up to the games the staff performed brilliantly. The service was delivered throughout the Olympic games, as it is every day, by willing staff at all the stations. We should think about that—as should the Mayor.
It is extraordinary for someone to have been the Mayor of a great city such as London for six years but still never to have met the representatives of the people who provide the services for which he is responsible. He has time to meet every banker in the City and to travel to every city in the world, but does not, apparently, have time to invite the union representatives of the people providing TfL services to his office to tell him their views about it. He needs to get a grip on what democratic accountability is about.
I drew attention to Finsbury Park station in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington because it is the one I use the most. Indeed, some of my colleagues in the Chamber today use it too. It is old, busy and getting much busier, and is an interchange between Network Rail and the Piccadilly and Victoria lines. It is not well laid out and was never well designed, and it has no ticket barriers; there is nowhere to put them. There are plans to change the station, but the changes are some years away. That means the station becomes very overcrowded, and frequently in the morning rush hour staff must stand in the street and ask the public not to come in until the numbers on the platform can be reduced. There is no physical way to stop them because of the lack of barriers.
There is a First Capital Connect ticket office and another for London Underground. For reasons that are beyond me, each seems to deal only with its own business. It should be possible for them to deal with each other’s business. The ticket office is very busy, with people making inquiries about Oyster cards, lost Oyster cards, or student travel; there are people using the freedom pass, who may have mislaid it or have a problem using it, and people simply trying to buy tickets or find where to go. They get a good response and good help from the very hard-working staff in that station. If the ticket office is closed, what are they supposed to do? The hon. Member for Hornchurch and Upminster (Dame Angela Watkinson) gaily told us that only a small percentage of the total number of travellers will be affected, but as my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington said, that is 100,000 people a year, or the equivalent of a bit more than a full Wembley stadium. Would we really have Wembley stadium operating with only ticket machines and no staff? Think about the numbers and the potential for problems by not having fully staffed ticket offices.
When we make this plea, we do so to retain jobs, obviously, and to ensure that the public are properly represented and dealt with in ticket offices. We also do it from the point of view of station safety, because, in the days when not enough staff were at the stations and there were only, quite often, inoperative CCTV cameras inadequately guaranteeing the safety of passengers, the number of assaults went up and the number of passengers at night went down, and the number of people trying to drive in and out of London went up while the number of public transport users went down. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) pointed out, if we run a good public transport system that is well staffed and well run, more people use it, our city is less congested, and it has a much better sense of community.
Through the medium of this debate, I make an appeal to the Mayor: think again. Meet the staff representatives, understand what the ticket offices are there for and what they do, and reverse this crazy policy and retain staffed ticket offices on every station, as we have now.
I will be brief, because I appreciate that others want to speak. I make reference not only to my entries in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, but to my membership of the RMT, TSSA, and ASLEF parliamentary groups— I thank them for the briefings that they have provided for the debate, which are quite different from the briefings from Transport for London, which have been referred to.
I am speaking in this debate because I believe that if the proposals for job cuts and ticket office closures in London go ahead, they will come to areas such as the one I represent next. If those closures are possible in London, where there is massive public opposition and a strong, well organised, trade unionised work force, which, frankly, has a tradition of taking industrial action, that will make it very difficult to fight similar threats in other parts of the country. However, I assure anybody who is listening that we will fight any attempt to reduce staff in other parts of the country, and in Ayrshire in particular.
The reality is that it is in none of our interests to have a transport system that does not have staff and people on it to look after passengers, but that is our current direction of travel, to use a pun. We are talking about approximately 1,000 job losses as a result of the 240 ticket office closures in London, affecting not only ticket office staff but supervisory staff, managerial positions and staff in control rooms. It is happening as part of Government proposals to take staff away from our whole public transport system, and in particular the railways and the tube lines. That is why this debate and this dispute are relevant to every part of the country.
It is common sense that we need people to help us when we use our trains, and we need people on stations to assist us. Whether that involves buying a ticket, finding the appropriate platform, finding a trolley to put a bag on, helping people on to the train or helping them once they are on the train, it is something we all need and something for which I believe there is cross-party support.
I say to everyone in the House that this dispute is not only about London Underground, but about the service that all our constituents receive. We should be sending a very clear message not only to Transport for London and to the Mayor but to Government in this place and throughout these islands that we want a public transport system with people to help us on the platforms, in ticket offices and on trains.
I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees that the Minister is a decent man. He regularly uses the District line and is frequently seen on the Wimbledon run, but I fear that he may be seduced by the arguments that we have heard today, which are the same as those used when my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma) and I were bus conductors. We were told that without conductors, the buses would be safe, but in fact, crime has rocketed on the buses. Does my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Katy Clark) agree that there is real fear, not only about public insecurity and a lack of public safety, but about an increase in crime in unmanned, empty, echoing halls?
I agree with my hon. Friend; I do not think we want to have to deal with machines all the time. We want to have staff to help us in stations and on every part of our transport system. That is why I have spoken today, and I hope that the voice will come very clearly from this place that these proposals are not in anybody’s interests.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) on an excellent, powerful and factual contribution, and I shall bear in mind the fact that I have about three minutes.
London underground is not only a London issue—I am a north-east MP and I have great interest in what happens to the underground. This is the nation’s capital. It is where we held the Olympics, and where we have fantastic cultural events, arts and leisure, and international football and rugby games. We have all seen the chaos that often occurs on the underground.
I place on record my thanks to the fantastic work force who work tirelessly 365 days a year to provide the London Underground’s services. They are fantastic. Look at the tourists from across the globe; we want as many people coming to London as possible. We do not want to keep them away for fear of having a dreadful service in London. Look at the people who work on the underground and the valuable contribution that they make to the economy, and yet we think nothing of slashing jobs and stations at the cross of a pen. Millions of ordinary people use the underground as a means of getting across London to work. We have to consider all that.
In the minute or so I have left, I mention that this is not a failing organisation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington said, passenger journeys on London underground will rise by 13.75%, from 1,273 million to 1,448 million by 2021. London Underground is a flourishing organisation, which needs more staff, better health and safety and a whole new structure to cater for the people who will use the service. I cannot understand how the hon. Member for Hornchurch and Upminster (Dame Angela Watkinson) can suggest, even with the best brief in the world, that closing the 240 ticket offices and cutting 950 jobs will be an improvement to the service. Perhaps somebody can explain to me how it will improve it. We need to make sure that the service is top class and stop cutting the jobs, and we need to make sure that the service is there, embracing people from across the globe, and to get to grips with reality.
I have only a minute left to speak, but there are plenty of things that I want to say. I rise to contribute to the debate as a part-time Londoner, even though I represent a constituency 120 miles from the capital. I emphasise that to me this is part of a wider ideological assault on the public sector and on public services. We have heard eloquent testimony today from hon. Members about the contribution that London Underground staff make to ensuring that we have a quality service. We should be proud of and cherish the personal attention that they give members of the public. The Minister should use his good offices to ensure that the Mayor recognises the important role that those staff play and that the Mayor meets their trade union representatives, so that he can hear directly from them and, we hope, they can change his mind.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) on securing this important debate. He is a tenacious advocate for better public transport and was right to say that London Underground’s quality of service is now under threat.
There are two closely related issues in the debate, and I would like to begin with the question of station staffing levels, because the staffing reductions on the underground weigh heavily on the minds of many Londoners who rely on current levels of customer service to undertake their daily journeys. Of course, that is to say nothing of those Londoners whose jobs are at risk.
Every passenger may experience inconvenience if staffing levels are reduced. How many of us have come across faulty barriers or ticket machines, but have known exactly where to find help? How many of us knew where to go for advice when a service was cancelled, especially late at night? Clearly, it was the ticket office. Just yesterday, I arrived on the platform down at Westminster to find services disrupted, so I could not travel by tube and needed a refund on my Oyster card. I knew that that service would be provided quickly and courteously by staff in the ticket office, and of course it was.
Such experiences are common to us all, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington set out very clearly, we know that Boris Johnson’s plans to close all ticket offices and cut 17% of station staff will hit disabled passengers particularly hard. These are passengers who Transport for All has warned could face new barriers in trying to travel to work, to see friends and family and to get out and about in the capital. According to Transport for London’s own equality impact assessment, customers with dyslexia will be particularly affected, as that is
“a disability that remains hidden when”
“using a ticket office, but would potentially become known when”
“requesting assistance at the ticket machine.”
If stations are left unstaffed, perceptions of safety will be damaged, discouraging some groups of passengers in particular from travelling. TfL’s own equality impact assessment states:
“Concerns about crime and antisocial behaviour tend to affect the travel patterns of women, BAME”—
black, Asian and minority ethnic—
“Londoners, younger people and…those on lower incomes more…than other groups”.
A number of my hon. Friends have described some of the circumstances that demonstrate exactly how important tube workers are in keeping stations safe and feeling safe.
Let us be clear. This is not a carefully managed, gradual transition to new working practices. All the ticket offices are due to close next year. That suggests that it is driven by a political timetable. These proposals are about McNulty-style cuts to the underground instead of putting passengers first. I well understand why my hon. Friends the Members for Derby North (Chris Williamson), for North Ayrshire and Arran (Katy Clark) and for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) are worried about the implications for their local rail services. When almost 1,000 station staff are losing their jobs, it is simply not credible for the Mayor to say that that will not lead to any reduction in passenger service and safety standards.
Does my hon. Friend agree that this is also a matter of trust? I say that because the Mayor is on record as saying in March 2010:
“This Mayor takes his promises to Londoners extremely seriously. Every station that has a ticket office will continue to have one.”
He made that solemn pledge; he could not have been clearer. This is a matter of trust, is it not?
My hon. Friend is exactly right. I would say that the Mayor has now lost any credibility that he might once have had on this issue. Not only did he make those comments in 2010 but in his 2008 manifesto he was unequivocal:
“We will halt all such ticket office closures immediately.”
I know that the Mayor has had a high-profile falling-out with the Deputy Prime Minister, but perhaps he should have some sympathy with him, because he was photographed signing a petition that called for an end to
“the closure of station ticket offices”
and the reopening of
“those which have already been closed.”
In a particularly florid turn of phrase, the Mayor said at the time:
“Consider the threat has been lifted, annihilated, vaporised, liquidated, exterminated, removed and obliterated as of now”.
He later said to Assembly Members:
“The first and most important point to make is no ticket offices will be closed...They are not going to be closed...The answer to the number of ticket office closures is nil”.
On the very same day, a leaked TfL report revealed that closures were indeed being planned, and in November we had confirmation that all ticket offices were to be shut, so Boris Johnson began as the Mayor who said that he would save every ticket office and he will finish as the Mayor who closes every one of them.
There are other long-term considerations that have to be addressed, including the future of London Overground which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) rightly said, is an excellent service. Services and stations on the West Anglia lines are due to be transferred from Greater Anglia to London Overground next year, and commuters on those lines will be hoping that the promises made on investment and improvements in service quality will be upheld. As the Campaign for Better Transport has powerfully argued, the highly visible improvements that London Overground made in 2007, which included putting more staff on stations, have improved passenger satisfaction, driven up revenue and transformed the image of many local services.
As Ministers help to oversee the transition of the lines, will they satisfy themselves that this round of job losses is not the first step towards returning to the poorly staffed, poorly maintained and threatening stations that characterised the old Silverlink franchise? If this Minister can give that commitment today, this question must surely apply: why take that approach to the overground but not the underground?
Unfortunately, recent relations between the Government and the Mayor’s office do not give us cause to hold out much hope for the future. Several of my hon. Friends have raised concerns about TfL’s funding. The current dispute between the Treasury and the Mayor reflects poorly on both parties, but as Labour Members understand, ordinary Londoners are the ones set to pay the price.
I will give some background. David Goldstone, TfL’s chief finance officer, told London assembly members that
“the Mayor made the decision about the average”
“across all TfL services being at RPI…at that time we understood the travel cards would have the national RPI-plus-1 formula applied. The Chancellor then announced that national rail would be at RPI.”
This has left TfL with a budget shortfall of £13 million to £14 million a year, and the late application of fare rises this year—a result of the confusion between Whitehall and the Mayor’s office—means that the bill could rise to £20 million in 2014. There is an apparent refusal by Treasury Ministers to fund that hole in the Mayor’s budget, and that has naturally led to suspicions that personality politics may be at work.
Can the Minister provide clarification and say whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer informed the Mayor of London that he intended to restrict fare rises to RPI before the announcement was made? Will the Treasury fund the shortfall, and if not, what estimate has he made of the impact on TfL’s services that cuts of this value could have? Is he in contact with the Mayor and the Treasury on this matter, and what representations has he made to them? I hope that the Minister will address those questions and the questions raised by other hon. Members, but the truth is that there are enough questions on this issue and these plans to fill a much longer debate.
With fewer staff available to manage congestion during peak periods, it seems likely that overcrowding will start to have a greater impact on operational performance. Violent crime is unfortunately on the rise on the underground network, and visibility will be reduced, as up to 17% of station staff are set to lose their jobs. Staff will be carrying more expensive equipment as they replace ticket-office functions, which could make them targets for abuse and theft. Of course, the staffing reductions will be much higher at some stations, raising the prospect that individual members of staff could be left in unsafe situations, with little flexibility for back-up, particularly when there are problems on the lines.
However, it does not seem that the Mayor or TfL have planned for these problems, nor does there seem to be an awareness of the practical challenges that unattended ticket machines and barriers pose. We all know that that is not infallible technology and that without constant supervision, disruption can soon mount up for passengers. I am concerned that passengers will not necessarily be able immediately to find staff to help them if they are not in the location where they should be able to find them.
Although most of the matters we have discussed today are the responsibility of the Greater London authority, there is an important role for Ministers in assessing the impact of the planned cuts, clarifying the position on the £20 million black hole in TfL’s budget and ensuring that this chaotic situation never arises again, because Londoners deserve better than this.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. Like other hon. Members, I congratulate the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) on securing this debate on Government funding for TfL and station staffing levels. Let me begin on a consensual note, because that may not carry on through my speech. As the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) said, I often use the underground, and I did so this morning. I recognised, as I always do, the valuable role that the workers on the London underground play.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch and Upminster (Dame Angela Watkinson) asked whether I would tackle some of the myths and misinformation that are circulating. I hope that I will be able to reassure her—I am not sure that I will ever be able to reassure all Opposition Members—that the changes will make London underground staff more visible. They will be there to help with ticket barriers, ticket machines and platform safety in a way that has not been seen before.
I understand the fixation on the Mayor, because he is the leader of London. However, Mr Brown, who runs London Underground, meets the unions, and I understand that Sir Peter Hendy has done the same.
I was asked several questions, and I will try to answer some of them in the short time that I have. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington asked me about the response to a parliamentary question about the planned changes. The response stated that according to the equality impact assessment, the changes would be
“positive or neutral for all equality target groups”.—[Official Report, 6 January 2014; Vol. 573, c. 121W.]
That information was provided to us by TfL, which has also guaranteed that it will run an engagement exercise throughout this year with disabled and older people to ensure that they understand exactly how services will continue to be accessible.
The hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) spoke about the great achievements of the previous Mayor, but it is important to recognise that under the current Mayor, platform staffing levels have risen by 12% and demand by 23%. The Government recognise that transport is the key to unlocking growth and jobs, and they provide the financial settlement that allows the Mayor to fulfil his responsibilities for transport and operational matters. The Government are providing more than £10 billion to TfL over the current Parliament, which includes more than £4.5 billion to support the tube upgrade. The Jubilee line upgrade has been completed. The Victoria line upgrade features new trains, tracks and signalling and a 21% increase in capacity. The Metropolitan line has a new fleet of air-conditioned trains. The Government have provided the Mayor with a guarantee that enables him to move ahead with the proposed Northern line extension to Battersea. The upgrade of the sub-surface lines, in which my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch and Upminster and I take a particular interest, will increase overall capacity by 33%. The spending round announcement last summer included a huge commitment of £5.8 billion in capital grant and a further £3.8 billion of borrowing power for TfL to 2021, which will be absolutely crucial to the delivery of Crossrail and the Thameslink project.
The hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) challenged the Mayor on trust. Memories are short on so many things; I remember the previous Mayor telling us in 2004 that there would be no increase in fare levels if he were re-elected, but the following January fares went up by a minimum of 4%. One must be careful when talking about trust, because that contention applies as much to Mayor Livingstone as to Mayor Johnson. The hon. Lady questioned me about fares, and the Mayor has said clearly that the extra accommodation that is needed can be found from TfL’s budget by a combination of efficiencies and increased commercial revenue. In the huge budget provided by the Government, there is scope for TfL to find the relatively small amount that the hon. Lady mentioned. The Mayor has decided, quite rightly in my opinion, to hold London fares down to RPI plus zero. I think it will be possible to find the amount required to do that, and it will be sustainable if he continues to deliver efficiencies and value for money and ensures that the money that the Government give to TfL is best spent.
Everybody has pointed out that London continues to grow. We are set to see a further 1.8 million people by the 2030s, which is enough to fill an extra tube train per week. It is quite right therefore that TfL set out its vision for the future of the tube on 21 November. The core commitment at the front of that vision is that all stations will be staffed and controlled when trains are running and there will be more staff visible on platforms and in ticket halls to help customers.
However we look at it, the way in which passengers choose to pay for their travel is changing. That is an incontrovertible fact, even though we may not like the 3% figure. Over the past five years, demand for travel has risen by 23%, but ticket office sales have fallen by 43%. At the same time, to meet customers’ expectations, station staffing needs to increase. The ticket office is not the heart of the station; it is simply a room. The staff are at the heart of a station’s operation. TfL’s vision for London will allow them to be better equipped with technology and information in the ticket halls and at the barriers, so that they can step out of the ticket office and improve customers’ journey experience.
That is an operational matter for TfL. The hon. Gentleman should recognise the key points in TfL’s vision. A 24-hour tube service will run at weekends; the reliability and capacity of the tube will be further improved with new, more frequent trains; there will be enhanced signalling at stations; all tube stations will be controlled and staffed while services are operating; and staff will be more visible. TfL aims to deliver improvements and secure the best value for money.
In addition, the vision contains a commitment to the staff. My hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch and Upminster was absolutely right; although some 950 staff work in lightly used ticket offices, the overall decrease in station staff will be less than that, because TfL proposes to create 200 new jobs in ticket halls and on stations. Furthermore, as my hon. Friend has pointed out, TfL has made a commitment to provide a job at London Underground for anyone who wants to continue working there, and the changes will be made with no compulsory redundancies.
Despite the comments about the Mayor, London Underground continues to speak to staff and involve them at various stages of the change. The transformation will create 200 new jobs on top of the significant increase in numbers of staff available in ticket halls, at barriers and on platforms to provide reassurance about safety and to give advice. Those are not the figures portrayed by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington. The numbers are available, and I am sure that he will want to look at them.
I am aware that RMT has announced two 48-hour strikes, and I urge the RMT and TSSA leadership to work with TfL to shape the plans. Customers want hassle-free journeys, and they expect customer service that is fit for the 21st century and beyond. With Government investment, the vision for London ensures that the tube will continue to be fit for purpose, safe, affordable and reliable, and that it will meet the expectations of passengers throughout the 21st century.