Tom Richmond: Who will speak up for the poor rail passengers?

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AS a Left-wing union leader, Bob Crow’s demands for railway employees may be unaffordable – and the RMT’s repeated strike action unpopular with commuters. I’m the first to admit that I despair at many of his demands.

Yet, as an advocate for public transport, who else is there to speak up for travellers, as operators continue to assume that passengers have a bottomless pit of money, and are content to pay abovWe-average fare increases for a lesser service? Take Yorkshire, where rail fares, for example, will rise by 10 per cent – above the national average – in order to fund some additional rolling stock that is likely to make little difference to levels of overcrowding.

The response of the railway industry was to draw up secret plans to close scores of ticket offices across the region – these were not included in the executive summary of the McNulty review – and shorten carriages on the key route between Harrogate and Leeds.

If a supermarket or bank treated their consumers so shoddily, people would go elsewhere – despite the inconvenience.

The problem with transport operators, however, is that there is no choice – travellers are lumbered with the firms who have been awarded long-term franchises, and who have little compunction about the inconvenience caused by their poor management.

Ticket offices matter. As well as performing their role, their staff invariably assist those without internet access to plan journeys and book tickets. They should also inform passengers when there are delays, and how to make alternative travel plans. I can only assume that this role is being stripped away because railway bosses – whether it be the Government or the train operators – do not want to hear the views, experiences and complaints of the travelling public. Given the level of state subsidy that the railways receive, is this right?

SO much for Greg Clark, the under-fire Planning Minister, being put in charge of the cities. His appointment, I’m afraid, appears to be no more than a token gesture on David Cameron’s part.

Why? When it was put to him by Shipley MP Philip Davies that the whole country should be an enterprise zone, and not limited areas, Clark replied: “Our ambition is to make the whole country an enterprise zone, but we go one step at a time.” No wonder the Chancellor is downgrading his growth forecasts again.

And while he has promised to work with Bradford Council to try to kickstart the long-awaited Westfield shopping development, Clark warned local MP Gerry Sutcliffe: “We cannot force a developer to act if it does not have the necessary funds in place to do so.”

I’m not encouraged. Are you?

THIS is what is fundamentally wrong with the imposition of the Government’s spending cuts.

Whenever an uniformed officer leaves his ranks, the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police says he cannot replace that person because the salary saving must contribute to his budget reduction. However, the riots showed conclusively that people value uniformed officers – and that a surge in police manpower can help to quell disorder and bring the perpetrators to a speedy justice.

The only public sector staff that should not be replaced are the management executives who leave for whatever reason. The replacement of each member of “front line” staff – whether it be a police officer, nurse or teacher – should always be a priority.

PERHAPS the austerity cuts are finally catching up with the BBC. The books adorning the studio for Andrew Marr’s Sunday morning politics programme still include a copy of Greg Dyke’s tome Inside Story. Published in 2004, it tells the story of how the former director-general of the BBC was forced to quit over reporter Andrew Gilligan’s claim that the then-Government had knowingly “sexed up” the intelligence relating to Iraq’s military capabilities.

ONE look at the sports offerings in the local bookshop reveals what is wrong with contemporary football.

Alongside Theo Walcott’s memoirs, there’s a biography of the 22-year-old’s one-time Southampton contemporary Gareth Bale – another player with no major honours to his name.

And there is the quite wonderful biography of Joe Fagan, a modest man who declined, when alive, to write his story because he believed that he was an ordinary person just doing his job.

What did he win? In his first year in charge of Liverpool Football Club in 1983-84, he won the First Division, the League Cup and the benchmark of greatness. He also kept his feet on the ground by walking form his home to Liverpool’s training ground. Joe Fagan: Reluctant Champion (published by Aurum Press) is a remarkably uplifting story about greatness – a notion that the likes of Walcott will only ever aspire to.