Last week came news that after months of staggering indifference, the government was finally drawing up plans to intervene in the unacceptable situation facing thousands of commuters using Southern rail services. But while this is in one sense encouraging, it simply is not happening quickly enough.
Every single day brings misery to passengers throughout South London as trains are delayed or cancelled. This not only affects those using them to get to work, drop their kids off at school or go about their business in Lambeth, it also causes more pressure on packed buses and the tube network.
Besides being a huge inconvenience, these constant failures are bad for our local economy that depends on an efficient, dependable transport network. Reports in the media that some people are unable to get jobs because they would have to use Southern Rail and GoviaThamelink services are deeply worrying, and unacceptable. Even Southern’s Director of Passenger Services admitted at a Lambeth scrutiny meeting recently that his company was offering the worst service in the country.
But despite this catalogue of failure, the government has remained inactive and disinterested. Labour has instead offered a viable alternative with Sadiq Khan, backed by Lambeth Labour as well as local MPs Chuka Umunna and Helen Hayes, calling for Tfl to be given responsibility for the franchise. This practical suggestion and an offer of bi-partisan working was however immediately rejected by the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling who instead in leaked comments said that he “did not want the network falling into the hands of a Labour Mayor”. A letter from our council leader Cllr Lib Peck to Grayling offering a meeting has been completely ignored. And at last week’s council meeting we had the spectacle of Lambeth Tories slavishly defending their government and offering not one bit of support to embattled commuters.
Embarrassingly for local Conservatives, the next day came news that their government was plotting a potential U-turn. While this is encouraging, there is still no plan on the table. So while Ministers dither the misery for commuters and business will continue.
It is now time for the government to not just consider a plan, but to act. Until then I would urge everyone to continue the pressure by signing the Southern Fail petition: http://www.southernfail.org.uk/petition
Lambeth Labour will continue to hold the government to account until passengers get the service they deserve.
Cllr Jennifer Brathwaite
Lambeth Cabinet Member for Environment & Transport