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Southern Rail

Volume 612: debated on Thursday 30 June 2016

21. What assessment his Department has made of the effect of the recent performance of the Southern rail franchise on economic productivity in the south-east. (905590)

Surprisingly, there is no formal economic assessment of the impact of rail disruption, but I am in no doubt that the hon. Gentleman and I would completely agree that a disrupted railway is not good for the economy or for passengers. That is why we are so committed to once again making Southern rail a high-performing railway.

This shambles is turning into a crisis. I have people writing to me who are late for work every day and getting written warnings from their bosses. The Government seem to expect them to turn to their bosses and say, “Don’t worry. By 2018, it will all be fine”. When will this shambles and crisis end? When can people tell their bosses that things will get better?

The hon. Gentleman and I talk about this a lot. He knows that there was disruption as a result of our record investment but that things are getting better—I point out again that in April we got up to an 83.8% public performance measure. If his constituents would like to write to bosses, I suggest they write to the union bosses involved, who are doing their members a grave disservice by bringing them out on completely unjustified grounds. This is a dispute about who presses the buttons that operate the doors and the change in the role of the second staff member; there are no job losses or changes to terms and conditions.

My constituency benefits from Southampton airport and its economic productivity. It is getting four new routes this summer, and many hub in from Ireland and the Channel Islands, but Southern rail’s shameful performance is affecting commuters across the south coast as well as those hubbing into my airport and heading up to Gatwick from Swanwick. Flights are being missed and jobs are constantly in peril. Will the Minister say that the huge impact this failing franchise is having cannot be tolerated?

Everybody understands that the railway has to get better—that is why the money is being spent and why so much work is going on with the operator and Network Rail—but I point out again that £2 billion of brand-new trains are coming off the production line that the company wants to run on these routes, but their introduction is being held up. And by the way, this is not just about Govia Thameslink Railway; they are having exactly the same problem in Scotland. This is a nationwide dispute about who presses the buttons that open the doors.

It is no good having more rolling stock if it is not actually moving, and it is not good enough for the Minister simply to blame the unions. Her Department has to get a grip. My constituents are furious. They are paying through the nose for an appalling service that threatens their jobs and robs them of time with their families, while the pay deal of the chief executive officer of Go-Ahead rose to more than £2 million last year. Will she get a grip, stop defending the failing private sector, remove the franchise and put the service into transparent and accountable hands now?

Unlike the hon. Lady, my focus is completely on the passengers. She accepted a large donation from the RMT before the last election, while members of the ASLEF union have just awarded themselves a 16% pay increase. They need to stop objecting to the introduction of new technology that will benefit her constituents and constituents right across the UK.