No one should be allowed to stop public transport


Many of us in East Devon use the rail regularly to get to school, work or see friends and family. The railways also connect many of our rural communities to Exeter, including Lympstone, Whimple and Cranbrook. It is a vital service for many, every day.

As readers know, members of the RMT union are on strike this week in a dispute with Network Rail over their pay, staff cuts and working conditions. I am concerned that this large-scale industrial action could continue over the summer, disrupting vital services, NHS appointments and GCSE exams.

There will be disruption to the resumption of our hospitality and tourism operations in Exmouth, Topsham and elsewhere, with people unable to reach hotels or honor restaurant reservations. In addition, the strikes could exasperate existing national work-from-home trends, hurting productivity and high street businesses. It will also add unnecessary extra stress to pupils who have to take important exams this week, with schools already writing to parents worried that their children are missing tests because they can’t get to school.

The government cannot support union demands for 11% wage increases. As we know, government money doesn’t exist – it’s your money. Despite £16billion in emergency grants during the pandemic, the tech reforms needed to make the extra funding sustainable are being blocked by militant unions.

One of these reforms is making a lot of noise: the closing of counters. In addition to reducing staff costs, this will allow station staff to be better placed on the platforms, to guide travelers and to meet all accessibility requirements. Since many people buy their train tickets online and access them on their smart phones, it is true that the government is looking for ways to modernize the railway. Not everyone is on the internet or has access to a smartphone and these people still need to be able to buy or collect their tickets at the station. While the systems need to be modernised, the railways need to remain accessible to all and I will push the government in this direction.

The strike takes place on Tuesday 21 st thursday 24 e and Saturday 26 e June, with only skeletal service on those days. The action has been designed for maximum disruption and the whole week will be severely impacted. We are particularly affected in the South West and I speak frequently with the railway companies, including GWR and SWR, about how they plan to alleviate the disruption for us here in East Devon.

On strike days GWR says they operate some services on the Devon main line to Paddington but these start late and end early. GWR expects these to be busy. GWR does not operate services along the Avocet line between Exmouth and Exeter. SWR does not offer services west of Basingstoke, also known as the West of England line. This means that there are no trains between Exeter and Whimple, Cranbrook and Honiton.

In-between days programming looks better with services on the network similar to typical Sundays. There is a risk of a slow start, however, with trains and drivers starting the day in the wrong place to begin normal service.

We are living in a staggering level of disruption – sparked by the unreasonable demands of left-wing, Labor-backed unions. It can’t happen again. I sit on the Transport Select Committee and will advocate for legislation requiring minimum service levels on the rail network.

While passenger numbers on the railways are doing well locally, they are still far from pre-pandemic levels nationally. These strikes will have permanently alienated some people from the railways. If we want to get more people to use public transport, we can’t let unions dictate when people can get to where they need to be. No one should be allowed to stop public transport.

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