FED-UP COMMUTERS losing their jobs because of late trains; travel plans for day-trippers ruined; cancer patients missing hospital appointments. This is the human price of an unnecessary strike at crisis-hit Southern Rail – or should that be Southern Fail? – over whether the driver, or conductor, is responsible for shutting the train doors.
Though this chaos-causing industrial action is impinging upon the South East where there has, for some time, been no correlation between the advertised timetable and those few services running as passengers scrummage to board overcrowded trains, this dispute sums up everything that is wrong with Britain today amid fears that the strike could spread to other franchises, like Northern and TransPennine Express, which use driver-only trains. It must not come to this.
First, the railway unions need to call off the strikes. Both Aslef, which reportedly gave Labour £118,000 last year, and the RMT appear totally unwilling to compromise, even though there’s no evidence to suggest that safety elsewhere has been jeopardised by drivers controlling the doors.
Next Southern Rail and its parent company – where top executives are paid seven-figure salaries – need to remember that they are subsidised by taxpayers to provide a public service and they have failed to do so. It’s significant that weary travellers appear to hold the inept operator in as much contempt as the belligerent unions.
And then there’s the Government and the reluctance of Transport Secretary Chris Grayling to intervene. This is a dereliction of duty and his threat of new laws to curb union members of the right to strike suggests that he has been spoiling for a fight rather than using his existing powers to revoke the Southern franchise and put in place an operator capable of running the trains efficiently with willing staff.
Unless this happens, Southern, and the rest of the railway industry, will continue to fail the most important people of all – the long-suffering passengers paying exorbitant fares to be left at the mercy of a service not fit for purpose, while the unions line Labour’s pockets and the railway executives responsible command undeserved salaries.
PRIME MINISTER’S Questions will, in all likelihood, follow a familiar pattern – Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will raise worthy issues while Theresa May will remain coy over Brexit. There will also be little or no mention of the countryside, even though today sees Dr Charles Trotman, a senior adviser to the Country Land and Business Association, giving evidence to a key select committee on rural tourism.
Ministers and backbenchers from all parties would be advised to listen to Dr Trotman’s evidence as he sets out a five-point plan to empower countryside communities and invigorate the rural economy. His message is set to be a blunt one: businesses will not invest in remoter parts of Britain unless there’s a clear plan for the future and guarantees over the provision of broadband so fledgling enterprises can operate in a digital age.
This is key. If the provision of key services is to remain sustainable, Yorkshire’s National Parks do, in fact, need to generate a new era of jobs and prosperity to support younger families who are drifting, in increasing numbers, to metropolitan areas to further their prospects. Every Whitehall department has, in various ways, some responsibility towards the country’s rural heartlands. It’s time that they started treating this public duty more seriously.
Best in business as Morrisons makes its move at last
THE best in the business under Sir Ken Morrison, it’s heartening that his supermarket empire Morrisons is enjoying an upturn in its financial fortunes. Shoppers truly care about this Yorkshire institution, hence the dismay when a succession of poor managers pursued one flawed business strategy after another when the discount chains were establishing their presence on the High Street.
Yet it is slightly ironic that this revival is being driven, in part, by The Best range of food where shoppers can buy premium food and ready-made meals at affordable prices. Morrisons – and other established supermarkets – need to aspire to be the best at all times, both in terms of produce and customer service, if they’re to prosper in an increasingly consumer-driven society. Taking customers for granted has proved to be a very expensive lesson.