London’s much-publicised Night Tube service now looks unlikely to start until the New Year after talks between London Underground and unions representing staff broke down.
The service was due to start on September 12th and is planned to run on Friday nights and the early hours of Saturday and Sunday mornings on the Northern and Victoria lines and parts of the Central, Northern and Piccadilly lines.
City Hall predicts the service could boost London’s night-time economy by up to £360 million thanks to the greater ease and lower costs of getting home after a night out.
It was announced by Mayor Boris Johnson and then Tube boss Mike Brown, now TfL Commissioner, in November 2013 and the start date confirmed last September despite not having reached agreement with unions about changes to pay and working conditions for staff being asked to work later shifts.
Unions including ASLEF, the RMT and TSSA, say the imposition of later working hours on existing staff will have an adverse impact on their work-life balance and could disrupt existing childcare and other family commitments.
Tube bosses claim that staff will only be asked to work occasional late shifts and have offered a series of one-off bonuses to those affected by the changes.
However the two sides have been unable to reach agreement on a revised renumeration package and union members have held a series of 24 hour strikes. forcing the complete closure of the Tube network.
In August the start date was delayed to allow talks between LU and the unions to take place, with Mayor Boris Johnson saying at the time: “I’m not interested in a staring match over September 12th and I want to see Night Tube introduced this Autumn.”
“Agreement on this is in everyone’s interests – Londoners, businesses, visitors to our city and the hard working London Underground staff who are central to making this happen.
“Further strike action isn’t going to benefit anyone and I’d urge the unions’ leadership to keep talking so we can get on and deliver Night Tube for London.”
Today ASLEF’s Finn Brennan said his and other unions had been unable to agree a way forward with London Underground who he accused of rejecting “a number of proposals to resolve this dispute in a way that is fair and benefits both sides.”
“Most disappointingly of all they have decided to blackmail their own employees by refusing to make a pay offer unless staff agree to worsen their working conditions.
“That is not something we are prepared to accept. Underground management have completely mishandled these negotiations. They have wasted every opportunity for a settlement and seem to have been determined to provoke confrontation rather than resolution.”
LU has in turn accused unions of rejecting “a fair and sustainable pay offer” and of “very late in the day” demanding the introduction of a four day week for train drivers.
Steve Griffiths, Chief Operating Officer, London Underground, said: “We’ve made significant progress over the last few months.
“Our offer has been reworked considerably from where we were when the trade unions balloted their members for strike action, which is why we now feel we must seek the views of our staff, as the unions haven’t.
“Not only are the unions at risk of depriving millions of customers of their Night Tube service, they are depriving employees of a very fair pay offer and longer term opportunities to improve work life balance even further.”
In a statement LU said it would “now seek the views of staff across the organisation on the 2015 pay offer, the implementation of the Night Tube and its operation.”
Opposition London Assembly members say responsibility any further delay in the scheme’s start date rests with the Mayor.
Val Shawcross, Labour’s transport spokesperson, blamed Mr Johnson for the breakdown in talks and said any further delays “will come as a major disappointment to businesses and Londoners who hoped that the service would be running by Christmas.”
She added: “The Mayor’s perpetual dithering over the project and his inability to bring the dispute with the unions to a close has meant the advent of the Night Tube is becoming an increasingly distant prospect.
“The Mayor was eager to announce the Night Tube, but was clearly less eager to do the work to ensure he could fulfil his promise to Londoners and deliver to schedule. Once again Boris Johnson has proven to be all show and no substance.”
Caroline Pidgeon, Leader of the Liberal Democrat London Assembly group, commented: “These delays are a real set back, especially for businesses that are part of London’s night time economy.
“The Mayor made a critical mistake in announcing a start date when a number of key issues were far from being resolved. By prematurely announcing a specific date he strengthened the unions’ negotiating position.
“The farce of a delayed Night Tube is of the Mayor’s making.”
Responding to the criticisms, Mr Johnson said: “The Night Tube will be a fantastic boost to the London economy and revolutionise weekend travel. Our offer to staff is a very fair one. Union bosses know that. It’s about time that if, as they claim, they support my vision for the night tube, they should get back round the table, do a deal and put it to their members.”