A debate in Parliament over the Southern Rail saga has seen the MPs for Eastbourne, Polegate and Pevensey speak.
The debate, which saw the Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling seemingly blame the Labour Party for egging the unions on, was the opportunity for MPs to debate the Gibb Report, which the Conservatives say points the finger at the Unions.
Mr Grayling did not stay in the chamber to listen to the thoughts and concerns of other MPs, leaving his Minister Paul Maynard there on his behalf.
Huw Merriman, the MP for Pevensey, has previously welcomed the independent report, despite some of its recommendations concerning passengers in Normans Bay, who could face losing their hourly services. Speaking in the Commons, Conservative Mr Merriman said he couldn’t understand the strike action by both the RMT and ASLEF, saying that no jobs were at risk and no employees would lose money. He also said that driver-only operations have already be proven to be safe, having worked in other parts of the country for many years.
Polegate MP, Maria Caulfield (Cons), said that things have improved for her constituents, with passengers and businesses starting to trust the service again. Ms Caulfield also said that she would not support a deal to remove Southern completely, but that she believes the operator still has a lot to do, with respect to flexible season tickets, which were promised by Southern, and for disabled passengers.
Eastbourne MP, Stephen Lloyd, who was the only Liberal Democrat MP involved in the debate, asked the Rail Minister to confirm or deny that the Department for Transport has never blocked the resolution of the dispute and asked why the Government seemingly won’t host a meeting with both unions and Govia Thameslink Rail (Southern’s parent company) at the same time with no pre-conditions, rather than hosting individual meetings with them.
The Polegate MP asked to step in during Mr Lloyd’s speech, and Ms Caulfield asked why he didn’t raise his concerns when he was last in Parliament, when Southern was awarded the contract. Mr Lloyd responded, saying he was angry at the time and that he did raise those concerns. The LibDem reported that he has had many women contact him, saying they wouldn’t feel safe to travel on a train without a second person on board. Ms Caulfield, who has previously told Eastbourne Buzz in an interview, that she can empathise with this feeling, also said that she would not support a resolution that would see all trains running without a second staff member onboard.
Eastbourne Chamber of Commerce has long called for the dispute to be over, saying businesses in the town cannot cope with the continued disruption, which is having a knock-on effect to the trading.
The situation on Southern, which has been a blight to passengers and businesses for over a year, continues to rumble on, with ASLEF drivers currently working to rule, refusing to work overtime, and the RMT union planning a 24 hour walkout on Monday (10 July). Both unions maintain that driver-only operations would put passenger safety at risk.