Merseyrail – RMT Guards vote for Industrial Action

The present Merseyrail rolling stock (Class 507/8 EMU’s) at Southport Station.

Below is the RMT Union notice which was sent to members of the Merseytravel Committee today:-

RAIL UNION RMT confirmed today that members have voted overwhelmingly for both strike action and action short of a strike in a ballot for industrial action after Merseyrail’s continued failure to provide cast iron assurances around the future of the safety critical role of the guard.

Action has by RMT’s Merseyrail guards and drivers has been confirmed as follows: Members not to book on for any shifts between 0001hrs and 23.59 hrs on Monday 13th March. In addition members will not work any rest days from 00.01 hrs on Tuesday 7th March indefinitely.

81.8% of members voted for strike action with 93.5% backing action short of a strike.

In addition, the union is kick starting a renewed campaign, involving the general public and targeting politicians across the area served by Merseyrail, aimed at maximising political and public support for RMT’s fight for a guaranteed guard on the company’s services.

RMT General secretary Mick Cash said:

“This ballot result sends out the clearest possible message to Merseyrail, Merseytravel and politicians across the area that RMT is prepared to stand up and fight for public safety and the guard guarantee. The company now has the best part of two weeks to sit down with us, address the core issues at the heart of this dispute and negotiate a settlement before the action commences.

“The union’s position on Driver Only Operation is perfectly clear. We will not agree to any introduction of DOO and will fight to retain the safety critical role of the guard and to keep a guard on the train. It is the failure of Merseyrail to give guarantees on those basic principles that has led to the current dispute and the campaign of industrial action.

“RMT asked Merseyrail to give the union assurances that any new trains will have a second safety critical crew member on board and that the guard will be retained on all services. We set out clear deadlines giving the company ample time to give those assurances but the company have flatly refused to consider a guarantee of a second safety critical person on the new trains”.

“This dispute, and the industrial action announced today, were entirely preventable if the company had listened and to the unions deep-seated safety concerns, had taken them seriously and had put passenger safety before profit. The blame for the industrial action, and the disruption it will cause, lies solely at the door of Merseyrail and those who are happy to put private profits before public safety.

“Merseyrail are also completely ignoring the clear wishes of their own passengers, who overwhelmingly oppose the idea of Driver Only Operated trains on their network. That pig-headed attitude has forced the union’s hand and the idea that we would compromise on the fundamental issue of rail safety is absurd. The union remains available for meaningful talks and we would expect Merseyrail to take up that offer as a matter of urgency.”

I can’t say that this has come as any surprise at all as Merseytravel, the public sector body that controls the Merseyrail Train Franchise, all but invited the strike in my view by choosing to purchase new trains which will be DOO – Driver Only Operated.

Like many I view this move towards taking away train guards with great scepticism as I don’t think Merseytravel have convinced anyone so far that it will actually lead to a safer local rail network for Merseyside. It does not help that Merseytravel seem to have differing answers to the question why they have decided to go down the route of Driver Only Operation. But of course I also view with horror the prospect of an industrial dispute and railway strikes such as that which is presently ongoing in the South East of England over this very issue.

I suspect this dispute has a long way to run and the victims of it will be the travelling public and Merseyrail staff it seems.

My thanks to Cllr. John Dodd for the lead to this posting.

Liverpool City Region – New transportation web site lauched

www.keepliverpoolmoving.com/

A new web site has been launched to chart the progress of the investment in our local rail network – see the link above to access the site and learn more.

Site for the new Maghull North Railway Station. Photo taken looking north from School Lane road bridge. The former Moss Side Hospital site is to the right and Mersey Avenue to the left.

The new Maghull North Station gets a mention with work starting in August 2017 and a planned opening of the Town’s second railway station in May 2018. Some of us have be campaigning for this second station for more years than we care to mention! Great to see it on track!

Maghull Square – What’s going on?

media.rightmove.co.uk/130k/129391/59420108/129391_13to14CentralSquareMaghullLPQ_DOC_02_0000.pdf

The link above to an on-line property brochure for Maghull Square is interesting although it must predate HSBC closing obviously.

If I had a £1 for every time someone has asked me where Home Bargains are moving to I really would be retiring on a good pension. This seems to be an issue that people really want an answer to.

From this brochure it looks like one of the new units that is presently being built in the left hand corner of the Square. BUT persistent rumours say that this is no longer the case and that Home Bargains are going to the new retail building under construction on the site of the old Maghull Library/Stafford Moreton Youth Centre. And others are even speculating on Home Bargains not moving at all but just expanding into the former HSBC unit next door since that bank recently pulled out of Maghull.

Which option is right? Well as the staff who work in Home Bargains Maghull branch don’t seem to know then it seems the guessing game will be doing the rounds for a while yet.

What’s also interesting in the on-line brochure is the cost of a retail unit in the Square. Goodness me these figures must be well out of reach for many a small business. They may not be out of line with other similar retail areas but where does a small business get that sort of money each year?

I recall when the Square had many independent business in the 60’s and 70’s but now it is dominated by regional and national outfits. Times they are a changing.

With thanks to John for the lead to this story

Great divides? Community boundaries – Mean a lot, mean a little?

I have often pondered on boundaries especially those associated with local government. What forms a boundary, why was it chosen and who chose it?

Here are two boundaries close to my Lydiate home. One is with Maghull and the other with Aughton:-

Maghull Brook - On the left Lydiate (and me) - on the right Maghull.

Maghull Brook – On the left Lydiate (and me) – on the right Maghull.

Sudell Brook - On the left Lydiate - on the right Aughton

Sudell Brook – On the left Lydiate – on the right Aughton

In both cases the boundary is obviously a stream and this can often be the case with local government boundaries where watercourses have been chosen to divide communities up.

The boundary between Maghull and Lydiate simply divides the two Civil Parishes of Lydiate and Maghull and the only real obvious difference this creates is the amount of Council tax or Precept that the residents of these two communities pay to either Lydiate Parish Council or Maghull Town Council. Both Civil Parishes are in Sefton Borough and both are a part of the Liverpool City Region/Merseyside.

The Lydiate – Aughton boundary is of far greater significance though as it is all but an invisible barrier rather than a boundary because Aughton Civil Parish is in West Lancashire Borough and the County of Lancashire. The world does not look any different on either side of Sudell Brook but in fact it is as the Sefton Borough – West Lancashire boundary has, since 1974, become a local government barrier. Why you can almost hear senior council officers saying ‘we are a Metropolitan Borough [Sefton] and they are just a County’ and of course the reverse will apply too. Sadly, whilst I may well be exaggerating here the reality is that since 1974, in local government terms, Sefton’s communities and those in West Lancashire have mainly planned for their futures in glorious isolation – a great divide indeed.

Considering the massive boundary between West Lancashire and Sefton you would think there would be a huge amount of cross-border co-operation and planning for the joint communities. You would think so but I assure you there is not.

I recall during my time as Leader of Sefton Council I went to Ormskirk to meet the Leader of West Lancs Council to try to kick-start closer working relationships but it seems that those who followed us have not developed things further. What sense does separate transport planning in the two Boroughs make? Environmental protection issues must be similar surely? Health issues surely do not stop at a stream do they? Why we even have an NHS Hospital Trust on split between Southport and Ormskirk either side of the great divide.

I recall when Sefton and West Councils were planning for building on the Green Belt and on the highest grade of agricultural land in England that I started to ask questions about how closely the two two planning departments were sharing and consulting each other. The answers I got were hardly an example of close cooperation in my eyes and I wondered if the contact was little more that phone calls with one side saying ‘we are doing X’, ‘well we are doing y’, ‘OK speak again next year maybe’.

The bottom line is that Merseyside and Lancashire are very different worlds in local government terms. Is this something that is hammered into local government officers from an early age akin to religious indoctrination? Whatever the case it is very much to the disadvantage of communities which are near to a significant local government boundary in my view.

Austerity as we think of it post the financial crash is far from being the whole story of the decline in council services

There is no doubt that austerity as either implemented by the Coalition Government (and then sadly pushed far, far harder by the present Tory Government) or indeed as outlined by Alistair Darling (his austerity would probably have been harsher than the Coalition’s some commentators say) on behalf of the Labour Party prior to the 2010 General election has had a huge impact on the ability of councils to deliver services.

But in fact there is a funding crisis that goes back much further than the financial crash of 2007 that has impacted on local authorities. That funding crisis is back in the headlines now but I recall it rearing its head almost every year that I was Sefton Borough Councillor during the budget setting process. In fact it was twofold i.e. children in care and care for the elderly.

Year on year senior council officers would present the need for extra money to be put into these two care budgets, often the amounts asked for, year in year out, would be have six 000,000’s behind them.

My point is that the elderly and children in care budgets have been eating further and further into council budgets for many, many years so austerity as far as local authorities are concerned did not start with the great financial crash but maybe 10 to 15 years prior to that.

And what made me think of this matter which must have been impacting on every local authority with responsibility for elderly/child care? Well two things really. The elderly care crisis is hitting the headlines yet again because politicians refuse to address it properly and have failed to do so for a least the last 20 years. And the other very local issue that made me think about it is the demise of public toilets and in particular the former award winning ones in Maghull.

Maghull's closed public toilets at the Square Shopping Centre.

Maghull’s closed public toilets at the Square Shopping Centre.

Public toilets have been in decline for a long time and the Maghull ones are an interesting and sad example not least because Sefton Council would once boast about them being award winners (Public Loo of the Year or some such award) back in the 1980’s. But since those days the Council’s focus, you could say its priority, has been slowly but surely moved towards funding the elderly and children in care.

What’s happened has been a creeping process whereby the amount of money each local authority has to spend on other services has got smaller and smaller as the budgets for elderly and children in care have got bigger. And this well before the consequences of austerity and the financial crash hit them via government grant cuts.

The thrust of government policy has in effect been to force local authorities to spend their money in these two key social care areas and on little else. Yes there’s no doubt that the austerity that followed the financial crash sped up this process beyond what anyone could have conceived but it had been a trend for a long time, one which was pursued by governments of all colours.

In reality local authorities (this does not include Town and Parish Councils – they don’t get an government grants) are now focused on delivering statutory services and have almost no money to deliver things that local people may want. Public toilets, for example, are a non-statutory service hence their demise across the UK.

Personally, I have thought that the funding of local authorities has been inappropriate for many years because they are in reality delivering two very different things i.e. local often non-statutory services for their communities and statutory services where they are in effect simply an agent delivering governmental/national services. The two got muddled up in the times of plenty and it did not seem to matter. However, in times of scarce money it is the local mainly non-statutory services that have been lost as the money has gone to prop up the statutory ones.

The former Aintree Library - closed by Sefton Council.

The former Aintree Library – closed by Sefton Council.

Sadly, it is more complex than that even because if you take the example of libraries they are a statutory service i.e. local authorities have to provide them. But the level to which they are provided is a different matter so Sefton Council was able to reduce it’s libraries from 13 to 6 without falling foul of the law not so long ago.

However you look at it local authorities are the fall-guys for austerity because governments of all colours over the past 20+ years have not funded statutory services, particularly adult/elderly social care, properly.

Merseyrail – So just why has public sector body Merseytravel decided there will be no Guards on trains?

I have been pondering about the recent announcement that the new Merseyrail trains will operate without train guards yet the more I read about the project the less clear the answers become.

Take the latest issue of RAIL magazine, which leads on the £460m fleet renewal. It quotes two significant things.

Firstly it says ‘It’s implementation [ i.e. no guards on the new trains] was also a key recommendation made by the Rail Accident Investigation Branch, following a fatal incident at James Street Station in 2011 that resulted in the conviction of a train guard for manslaughter by gross negligence.’

Now then I think it fair to say that many folk were very uncomfortable with the guard referred to above carrying the can for that accident. I previously blogged about it and a later similar incident:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2016/01/25/merseyrail-guard-in-the-dock-seems-it-is-happening-all-over-again/

Of course the clear implication of this is that trains will be safer without guards. Now how can that be?

But then in the same RAIL article the magazine quotes the Chairman of the Merseytravel Committee saying ‘In an idea world we’d like to have a second member of staff [a train guard?] on every train, but there aren’t resources to do that.’

Now then, does this second quote not make it seem that money was at least a significant deciding factor? Well that’s how it reads to me for what my opinion is worth.

But aren’t the guards are already there doing the job? On that basis keeping them in that job would not increase the pay bill at all surely.

Are we to surmise then that, what may be the case is that, the savings from taking away the train guards are being used to help pay for the new trains?

This feels like wading through mud to me but the bottom line is how will a train without a train guard be safer or at least as safe as one with one? And I come back to a question I have asked before. What will a driver do when he/she is responsible for the passengers on a train (and I mean specifically here those who are acting dangerously to themselves and others) as well as driving the train?

Ignoring the high profile politics of this issue (as presently highlighted by the Southern Trains dispute, which is fundamentally about the same issue) this is about safety and the powers that be need to try to convince us all that trains without guards will be at least as safe as those with guards. I for one will need a lot of convincing.

And finally, its no surprise at all that the RMT is now balloting its members for industrial action over the loss of train guards on Merseyrail. Well Merseytravel/Merseyrail you started this dispute, how are you going to end it?