Bromley and Chislehurst is quintessential commuter-land. A very high percentage of its population travels up to London to earn its daily crust, and with no underground as an alternative, passengers are entirely dependent on the wholly discredited local franchise, Southeastern. In effect, there is a monopoly supply.
Passengers, including myself, are tired of the daily deterioration in service we have all witnessed. Incessantly late trains, no seats, poor communication, and all at an astronomical fare. While the media’s gaze has understandably been focussed on the ongoing troubles with Southern Rail, be in no doubt, the service in south east London is just as dire. We are being badly let down, something that’s reflected in customer satisfaction ratings across the board.
Indeed, when you get to the stage that people are getting into trouble at work and being forced to up sticks and move, from what is otherwise a much sought-after suburban postcode, you know a serious rethink is needed. That much should be clear.
Perhaps most frustrating of all, that rethink was in fact already well underway, kick started, to applause across the capital, by the Department for Transport and the former Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, at the beginning of this year. Their plans would have seen responsibility for metro services handed over to the infinitely better managed Transport for London once current franchises were due for renewal.
A persuasive, evidence based business case was put forward, which not only had considerable support in London from Ministers, MPs from both sides of the House and the London Assembly, but also from many further afield, including Kent County Council.
Delays would fall, stations would be staffed from the first train until the last, capacity would significantly increase and Oyster and contactless payments extended. Overall, for every £1 spent, rail passengers would benefit by £4.30.
Yet, despite being brought forward by a Conservative Secretary of State and Mayor of London, yesterday these plans were scrapped by the Government in one of the biggest cop-outs I have seen in my time in politics. What’s worse, it was done under the guise of being too difficult. Questioning Chris Grayling in the Chamber, I was told the proposals constituted ‘the biggest restructuring since the 1920s’, an assertion that is neither true nor accurate.
The Transport Secretary’s real motive is given away in a letter he wrote to the then London Mayor on 24 April 2013. It is worth quoting in full:
‘Thank you for your letter of 17 April about the possibility of TfL taking on responsibility for a number of rail services in the London area, but outside the Greater London boundary.
While I am generally a great supporter of what you are doing in London, I would not be in favour of changing the current arrangements – not because I have any fears over the immediate future, but because I would like to keep suburban rail services out of the clutches of any future Labour Mayor.
Obviously, similar concerns apply over a future Labour government as well, but the continuation of the system we have at the moment does at least mean that MPs and local authorities from outside the London area would have a remit over train services in our areas, which I would not like us to lose. I’m afraid we will have to agree to disagree over this one.’
It is clear therefore that Mr Grayling’s decision was not motivated by the merits of the case but by party political bias. That is not a proper consideration to take into account in deciding public policy and arguably opens his decision up to legal challenge as being irrational.
This is a cynical, party political move that has failed to act in the interests of London commuters. It is clear that the current Secretary of State has a dogmatic opposition to rail devolution, and by insisting that this is based on concerns about the financial feasibility of the proposals, I would suggest he has misled the House.
Passengers deserve better than to be caught up in this type of political chicanery. I, and many of my colleagues, campaigned during the last mayoral election for greater rail devolution.
It is regrettable that I have been forced to adopt this stance and call for the Secretary of State’s resignation, but I will not sway from that commitment we made, nor will I allow long suffering passengers in my constituency to be used as political pawns.