Jim Armitage: Nationalisation could stop Southern going further southComments Off on Jim Armitage: Nationalisation could stop Southern going further south
Britain is Open for Business, No 10 declares. London Is Open, chimes the Mayor.
Worthy slogans but sadly at odds with the welcome provided by Gatwick in recent days.
The airport’s links to London were once again crippled by industrial action. The Gatwick Express was down completely — or, as management signage put it, undergoing “service amendments”. But despite that, part-owner Southern, whose striking drivers were the cause of the Gatwick Express cancellations, was only running four carriages on its stopper service alternative.
Cue hundreds of baggage-laden travellers — my family included — either abandoned on dangerously overcrowded platforms or crammed onto trains and forced to disembark with their suitcases at every station to let hapless locals off. Yet union officials claim to be striking over concerns about passenger safety.
The Christmas Gatwick fiasco was just a piece of grit in the sidings of the scandal of Southern Railways industrial action. Commuters have been facing this misery for months. However, Chris Grayling at the Department for Transport still parrots that it’s nothing to do with him — merely a ruckus between a private company and its staff.
Surely he can’t hold that line for much longer. First, the dispute over driverless trains is one of the Government’s making — it is Grayling’s department which has ordered Southern to push through the reforms. But more simply, when companies and their employees in privatised monopoly-utilities such as rail fail so abjectly to provide vital services to the country, it is absolutely the Government’s job to step in and sort it out. Especially when that Government is pushing through inflation-busting fare rises.
In this case, the solution must surely include at least considering a temporary renationalisation of the sprawling Southern franchise.
Not only would this replace Southern’s management, whose relationship with the intransigent unions seems irreconcilably broken, but it might also help the company work better with Network Rail, whose botched engineering works have greatly exacerbated the disruption. The service could be returned to private hands once the Network Rail work was complete and a solution to the industrial action found. A similar approach worked well at the East Coast Main Line.
The Department of Transport rejects such an idea but it provides no alternative except for criticising the unions.
True, RMT and Aslef are behaving disgracefully, but merely slagging them off hasn’t worked so far and is unlikely to in the future.
Ardent Brexiteer Grayling may not be a fan of immigration, but even he must see that putting big-spending tourists and executives through hell at our biggest airports is bad for Britain.