It was announced in yesterday’s cabinet reshuffle that Chris Grayling is to remain in place as Transport Minister. A quick glance at our Twitter timeline will tell you just how outraged commuters are about this – Grayling is widely blamed for his refusal to solve the Southern Rail crisis, despite the company being in special measures for nearly two years.
It is exactly six months since hundreds of commuters marched to the doors of the Department for Transport, demanding that Grayling either intervene in the Southern Rail management contract, or resign. He did neither: instead he chose to lay insult upon injury to southern passengers by withholding an essential report into the causes of the Southern Rail crisis.
The star railwayman Chris Gibb was touted by the Transport Minister back in September as the best person to analyse and fix the problems on Southern. However, the “Gibb report” has now been under lock and key at the Department for Transport for nearly six months, denying the public their right to a solution – and their right to answers – after suffering through this unprecedented rail crisis.
The General Election results – is there a “Southern Fail vote”?
Yesterday’s reshuffle came after disastrous election results for the Conservatives in many vital seats in the Southern Rail region. Conservative MPs lost their seats in Brighton Kemptown, Croydon Central and Eastbourne; while Amber Rudd narrowly hung onto her Hastings seat with a 346 majority, and Labour’s Peter Kyle achieved a landslide victory of 18,000 votes in Hove.
Nobody can prove how much the public sentiment on Southern Rail affected these results, but we can remind you of the responses to our ABC Passenger Survey of December 2016, based on an in-depth questionnaire completed by 1000 commuters.
The Gibb report must be released immediately – and in full.
Nobody who is watching our campaign could have failed to notice our pursuit of the Gibb report over the past six months. This vital report into the true causes of the Southern Rail crisis remains under lock and key at the Department for Transport, and has been reported by Graeme Paton of The Times to be heavily critical of the DfT’s role – Paton’s source said: “Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) and Network Rail don’t come well out of this, but the report is scathing of the DfT. It is dynamite.”
While ABC campaigners have spent months pursuing FOI requests on the Gibb report, Caroline Lucas MP led the pursuit in the House of Commons, asking two Parliamentary questions and finally forcing Paul Maynard MP to admit they would be holding it back until after the election – a decision she called “deeply undemocratic and an absolute disgrace”.
Our election demands went viral last month, receiving support from many Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green candidates on the urgent need for DfT accountability, disabled access, and the stripping of the Southern Rail contract. We were especially pleased to see the Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald pick up the baton on Gibb – his stance on Southern Rail is reasonable and well-informed, as you’ll observe in this recent interview.
Meanwhile, Tim Loughton, the Conservative MP for East Worthing, has tweeted that the Gibb report “must now be published without delay”. We are glad to gain support on this issue from at least one Conservative MP; after all, this is a crisis that affects the daily life of every southern constituent and should always have been a cross-party issue.
We are now asking all MPs to ensure that the Department for Transport stays true to its commitment to publish the Gibb report by the end of the second financial quarter – as they have already promised us in response to our FOI requests. This means that the Gibb report must be released by the end of June at the latest – and furthermore, must be published in full.
This is a matter of urgent public interest in the south, and has ramifications for transport policy all over the UK, not to mention our country’s democratic values. For Theresa May’s government to be talking about bringing in further restrictions to the right to strike when they have not even appraised the causes of this unprecedented crisis is at best premature, and at worst, ideologically motivated.
With a recent interview putting the Director of Operations Planning at Southern Rail on record as saying he “hasn’t seen the final Gibb report” we should all be asking louder than ever – to what extent is this failing rail company being micro-managed by the Department for Transport?