Driver Only Operation - Southern

Meeting: 
MQT on 2017-01-18
Session date: 
January 18, 2017
Reference: 
2017/0107
Question By: 
Gareth Bacon
Organisation: 
GLA Conservatives
Asked Of: 
The Mayor
Category: 

Question

Can the Mayor confirm that should TfL gain control of Southern, it would proceed with the introduction of Driver Only Operation?

Answer

Answer for Driver Only Operation - Southern

Answer for Driver Only Operation - Southern

Answered By: 
The Mayor

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Thank you for your question, Assembly Member Bacon.  In light of the political stance taken by the Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling, on Southern Rail devolution, which was made clear in his letter to my predecessor, this question is based on a hypothetical.  Hypothetically speaking, the Southern services that will transfer to TfL under my devolution proposals already have driver-only operation and so this issue is not relevant to the devolution discussion.  What is clear is that where TfL has taken over services, we have seen massive improvements.

 

Part of the dispute is about how industrial relations are dealt with by the management of Southern.  I have repeatedly called on both sides involved in this dispute to get around the table and sort out this unnecessary and unacceptable situation and I will continue to do so.

 

To emphasise my earlier point to Assembly Member Eshalomi, the woeful failings on Southern Rail are symptomatic of much wider problems and it is clear that the operator is not fit to run rail services around London.  I have called on the Government to give TfL emergency control of Southern Rail, as we discussed previously and as I recently wrote to you.  The clear longer-term solution is to give control of London’s commuter rail services to TfL, which will mean more reliable, frequent and affordable services.  This is why I am calling on the Secretary of State for Transport to reverse his appalling decision on rail devolution.

 

Gareth Bacon AM:  Thank you very much, Mr Mayor.  I would take issue with the first part of your answer.  It is relevant because the plan at the moment with Southern Rail is for driver-only operated rolling stock to be procured and to come into service and that, of course, has led to the industrial dispute that we have at the moment.  You were very clear and absolutely unambiguous in your answer to Assembly Member Eshalomi just a moment ago that driver-only operated trains are safe and, presumably, you stand by that because you said it only a few minutes ago.  I welcome that because that has long been known and I welcome the clarity that you have now put into the public domain.

 

Do you accept, therefore, that using the introduction of driver-only operated trains as a pretext for industrial action is unacceptable?

 

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  I can tell you about the trains we run.  The trains we run that are driver-only operated are safe.

 

Gareth Bacon AM:  Good.  The independent Office of Rail and Road (ORR) published its report on 5 January 2017 stating that it had tested the driver-only operated trains that Southern Rail was proposing to introduce and has said that they would be safe.  Are you happy to accept that report?

 

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  I am happy to accept what TfL has told me, which is that our trains are safe.  They are driver-only operated, as you know.  If the devolution were to happen, the trains we would be taking over are also driver-only operated and I am reassured by our experts that they are safe.

 

Gareth Bacon AM:  You are reassured that they are safe and so do you accept, therefore, that it is acceptable to go on strike and say that they would be unsafe?

 

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  You cannot extrapolate from me saying that our trains are safe to discussing industrial disputes between Govia Thameslink, RMT and the intervention of your Secretary of State.  The reality is this.  There are differences in resolving this around the table and so the disputes that exist between Govia Thameslink and the trade unions should be resolved and I am pleased to see progress being made.

 

I am clear that the TfL trains that are driver-only operated are safe.  The Southern services that will transfer to TfL under the devolution proposals are driver-only operation and so the matter is not relevant to us.

 

Gareth Bacon AM:  If you take control of Southern Rail, it will be relevant to you, Mr Mayor, because the plan at the moment is to roll out that rolling stock, it will be driver-only operated and you will inherit that.

 

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  No.  See, the trains we would take over already are driver-only operated and so there is no issue.

 

Gareth Bacon AM:  Driver-only operated trains are safe, in your view?

 

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  The ones we run, yes.

 

Gareth Bacon AM:  Is it acceptable, bearing in mind the ORR’s independent report that says that what is proposed for Southern Rail would be safe, to go on strike saying that it is unsafe?

 

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  I cannot comment on the individual differences that there are between the trade unions and Govia Thameslink.

 

Gareth Bacon AM:  It is a very simple difference, Mr Mayor.  It is not complicated.

 

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  That is one of the reasons why they have been having conversations today and yesterday at the Trades Union Congress (TUC).  It might be good political grandstanding on your part, but the reality is that I have to deal with the industrial relations that I am responsible for at TfL.

 

Gareth Bacon AM:  Mr Mayor, my job is to ask you questions.  Your job is to answer them.  Me asking you questions is not “political grandstanding”.  There has been plenty of political grandstanding going on from your office, if I may say so.

 

On two occasions I asked you about the “hit squad”, the team of experts that you were going to send into Southern Rail to take over and I asked you on both occasions what the names were of the people who were ready to go and how many people there were.  You could not provide them at that time and you said that you would write to me.  You have and you have referred to that letter.  The exchange that we had last time, when you said:

 

“I can send those to you offline but I have checked and we have people ready.  I am happy to write to you with these people.”

 

I asked how many there were and you said:

 

“I do not know but, again, I have checked and we have the numbers.  I am happy to write to you to let you know the details of that.”

 

The letter that you wrote to me did not give me either names or numbers.  You simply said that the Commissioner [of Transport for London] has assured you that you would have a team ready to go.  Is a team ready to go or not?

 

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Evidence of what ridiculous questions you are asking is the question you have just asked. You are asking me to ‑‑

 

Tony Arbour AM (Chairman):  No, Mr Mayor, you cannot rubbish questions.  He has asked you a question.

 

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Sure.

 

Tony Arbour AM (Chairman):  You cannot say that it is a rubbish question.

 

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Chairman, I will answer the rubbish question.  The relevance is ‑‑

 

Tony Arbour AM (Chairman):  No, answer the questions.

 

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  You have asked ‑‑

 

Tony Arbour AM (Chairman):  There is no need to be unnecessarily rude.

 

Gareth Bacon AM:  It is all right, Mr Chairman.  I am a big boy.  I can take it.  Carry on.

 

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  You have asked me to name you the names of staff who, in a hypothetical situation, should the Secretary of State [for Transport] ask us to go in and run Southern, would be the staff who go in and run Southern ‑‑

 

Gareth Bacon AM:  No.  To correct you, Mr Mayor ‑‑

 

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  ‑‑ when we are not sure what the problems are, we are not sure where the shortcomings are and we have not had the discussions.  What I can say is that we have north of 30,000 staff.  I have checked with the TfL Commissioner and we have the expertise.  I would read out for the purposes of others who have not read the letter what I said in my response:

 

“I have repeated my offer to the Government to redirect some of TfL’s operational staff from their substantive duties on a temporary basis to support the Southern railway management.  The individuals would be chosen based on the specific skills and expertise required, as well as the scope of their existing duties to be covered.  I have assurances from the TfL Commissioner that suitable individuals will be made available quickly should the Government decide to put politics aside and accept my offer of help.”

 

I could not be clearer.

 

Gareth Bacon AM:  Actually, Mr Mayor, you could be because I will draw your attention back to 14 December [2016].  I have the transcript in front of me.  I said, “Who are the people in this team and what are their names?”  You said:

 

“I can send those to you offline but I have checked and we have people ready.  I am happy to write to you with these people.”

 

That does not correlate with what you have just said to me, does it?

 

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  I have spoken to the Commissioner and I have written to you.  I could not be clearer.

 

Gareth Bacon AM:  You could be clearer, Mr Mayor.  You promised me on 14 December that you would tell me the names of the people.  You have said many times in public that the team is ready to go.  I have asked you what they are doing now, how they can be transferred from their duties now, whether there would be any cost and what the cost would be to TfL in terms of the duties that they are not going to be doing any further.  You said you had the people ready to go.

 

You do not have the people ready to go, do you, Mr Mayor?  You have accused other people of grandstanding and making political gestures, but that is exactly what you are doing now.

 

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  I could read you the answer again.  The TfL Commissioner has reassured me that we have a team of people ready to go should the Government take up my offer.

 

Gareth Bacon AM:  Yes, and I have asked you over a period of five months who these people are.  If the team is ready to go - as I said in the exchange we had in December - perhaps you could speak to the Commissioner and put into the letter the details of these people.  The fact of the matter, Mr Mayor, is that you do not have a team of people ready to go. You are using this as a stick to beat the Government over the head with. You are playing party politics with this and nobody else.

 

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  This is why it is grandstanding.  I have written to you and in my letter to you I made the point that the individuals would be chosen based on the specific skills and expertise required.  If the Government has not told us what the skills and expertise are, how can I name the staff commissioned  That is why, Chairman, with respect, it is a rubbish question because unless I am told what the skills and expertise are and we have more than 30,000 staff in TfL, how can I name them?  It is, clearly, a rubbish question.

 

Gareth Bacon AM:  Mr Mayor, you have on more than one occasion said in public that you have a top team of experts ready to go.  That would imply to any reasonable-minded person that these people have already been singled out, they have already been spoken to, you have already assessed what they can do and they are ready to go now.  By any reasonable measure, Mr Mayor, you would know the names of these people, you would know how many there are, you would know what they are doing (Overspeaking)

 

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Let us follow through the hypothetical ‑‑

 

Gareth Bacon AM:  You do not know and it is because you are grandstanding politically for your own benefit, Mr Mayor.

 

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  For the sake of your grandstanding, let us follow through the hypothetical.  That would require you to let me know what skills and expertise are required.  Once you have done that, I can name the individuals.  Until you tell me the skills and expertise required, how can it be reasonable for me to name individuals?

 

Gareth Bacon AM:  I would completely agree with that ‑‑

 

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Thankfully.  At last.  It has taken five months to get there until you have got there.

 

Gareth Bacon AM:  ‑‑ if you had not already said in public many times that your team is ready to go, Mr Mayor.  You have said it yourself many times, “The team is ready to go.  The Government just has to accept my offer and they will be ready to go and they will sort it out”.  That implies, Mr Mayor, you already have these people.

 

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  For the purposes of those transcribing this, let me just repeat what I have said.  I have assurances from TfL’s Commissioner that suitable individuals will be made available quickly should the Government decide to put politics aside and accept my offer to help.  I also repeat that the individuals will be chosen based upon the specific skills and expertise required.  Until I know what the expertise and skills are, I cannot name the individuals.

 

Gareth Bacon AM:  Mr Mayor, the tense in this is very important because you have referred to it previously, “They are ready to go now”.  It is clear in your letter and it is clear from your answers today that they are not ready to go now.  You have done this for your own personal benefit, Mr Mayor, to grandstand and to use it as a stick to beat the Government over the head with.

 

We are on record.  We campaigned on it.  The very first question I asked you when you were elected as Mayor of London was about rail devolution.  We are supportive of that.  Do you really think that doing things like this is going to endear you to a Secretary of State [for Transport] who apparently does not seem to like you or will make rail devolution more likely?

 

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  I am not sure how to answer.  I am not sure what ‑‑

 

Gareth Bacon AM:  Mr Chairman, thank you very much.  I will clarify my question.

 

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  For both of us ‑‑

 

Gareth Bacon AM:  Do you think ‑‑

 

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  ‑‑ and for the gallery.

 

Gareth Bacon AM:  If you could be quiet, Mr Mayor, I will ask you the question.  Do you think ‑‑

 

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  It would be nice if you got there.

 

Gareth Bacon AM:  Do you think that the kind of grandstanding that you are pulling at the moment is going to endear you to the Government?  Is it more likely to make rail devolution happen with the behaviour that you are conducting at the moment?

 

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Can I just say?  We do not appear to have had problems with the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and housing.  We do not appear to have had problems with other Government departments.  I meet regularly with Government Ministers.  As I said, I am meeting shortly with the Health Secretary.

 

As you know, Assembly Member Bacon, I am a reasonable guy.  We have plans that have been agreed for months and years.  I appreciate that you are embarrassed.  You are embarrassed because your voters want these lines to be run by TfL.  You are embarrassed because you have put political capital into getting a deal between the Government, the Assembly, local authorities, commuters and businesses.  You are embarrassed because Chris Grayling [Secretary of State for Transport] is putting party politics above passengers.  I get it, but come on.

 

The reality, as you will accept if you are being honest and are not grandstanding, is that we have an excellent team in TfL that could do a far better job than Govia Thameslink.  I find it astonishing.  You have more confidence in Govia Thameslink than in TfL.  I am shocked.  I am surprised at you.

 

Gareth Bacon AM:  Mr Mayor, that was a very skilful attempt to put words in my mouth, Mr Mayor ‑‑

 

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  I am very surprised.

 

Gareth Bacon AM:  ‑‑ but I do not recall saying anything about Govia Thameslink in my questioning today.  I do not recall making any statement about that at all.  The point, Mr Mayor, is that you have good relations with the DCLG, it seems, and you have good relations on housing.  That is certainly true given the grant that the Government gave you, but you have not been grandstanding about either of those and trying to score points off the Government, have you?  What we have seen constantly since you became Mayor is you using the Southern Rail situation to further your own interests and you have been using as a political stick to beat the Government over the head with.

 

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Can I just say ‑‑

 

Gareth Bacon AM:  In that light, given that you have a big ask on the table, which we all supported, in terms of rail devolution, do you really think that the tactics you are deploying at the moment are in the best interests of Londoners?

 

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  We got there in the end.  Chairman, can I just say?  We spent more than £250,000 on the business plan.  The business plan was 99 pages long.  We spent a considerable amount of time - and this is since I became Mayor - talking to Kent, Surrey and other councils outside of London.  We have cross-party support from Members of Parliament (MPs) like Bob Neill [Conservative MP for Bromley and Chislehurst], Steve Reid [Labour MP Croydon North] and other MPs across London and from the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, Labour and the Conservatives.  We have the support of business leaders.  That is not showboating.  That is not grandstanding.  That is working as a responsible Mayor for all Londoners.

 

Let us be frank.  The reason why Assembly Member Bacon is embarrassed is that the reshuffle led to the most political of Transport Secretaries taking over.  What was the smoking gun?  That letter from [Chris] Grayling to Boris Johnson [MP, former Mayor of London] was the smoking gun.  That is why he is embarrassed and that is why he is grandstanding.

 

Steve O’Connell AM:  Mr Mayor, good morning to you.  If I may, amidst the sound and fury of the last ten minutes or so, I heard something that was really interesting for my residents particularly.  You said yourself that you are happy for any train service run by London Overground under your control to have a driver-only service.  I think I heard that.  Is that correct?

 

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  It is safe, driver-only, yes.

 

Steve O’Connell AM:  There was a lot of noise but ‑‑

 

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Steve, the TfL services we run that are driver-only operated are safe.

 

Steve O’Connell AM:  You are relaxed about that.  Fantastic.  You have an aspiration and TfL has an aspiration to take over the Southern services that are so ill-serving my residents across Croydon and Sutton.  Again, I heard in your response, although it became convoluted into something else, that if I could wave a magic wand now and give you your wish and tomorrow TfL and you took over the services from Croydon and elsewhere on Southern, you would be content for them to be driver-only services?

 

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Yes.  The ones that we will be taking over already are and so it will be fine ‑‑

 

Steve O’Connell AM:  You will be happy with that?

 

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  ‑‑ and they are safe.

 

Steve O’Connell AM:  I wanted to just confirm that.  Thank you, Mr Mayor.

 

Tony Arbour AM (Chairman):  Thank you very much.  .