Unions call for independent body to take over Southern Rail assessment to avoid conflict of interest
MINISTERS and civil servants about to make a ruling on whether Southern should be stripped of its franchise have a conflict of interest, rail union RMT said yesterday.
The union called for the decision to be taken by an impartial body instead, saying Whitehall officials were “up to their ears in cosy relationships” with bosses. A judicial review into the government’s handling of the Southern debacle will be held if Transport Secretary Chris Grayling does not make a ruling this week.
His department must rule over whether disruption to services over the past year has been outside the company’s control.
A recent review conducted by rail executive Chris Gibb blamed trade unions for disruption to services.
But Mr Gibb admits in the report that his company “has been contracted to [Southern’s owners] Govia Thameslink Railway, as facilitated by the DfT.”
He adds: “Discussions have been held under the terms of a confidentiality agreement between CLGR Limited and GTR.”
RMT general secretary Mick Cash blasted: “GTR has already been let off once by ministers for being in breach of its contract for failings that predate the industrial dispute.
“Now we see evidence of another stitch up emerging with the news that the author of the so-called independent report into Southern was actually all the time contracted to GTR to write it.
“There is clear evidence that ministers and civil servants have been directing this dispute, and are up to their ears in cosy relationships with the company and their consultants.
“That means they are clearly unfit to impartially assess whether GTR are at fault and whether or not GTR should be stripped of the franchise.”
Southern has admitted that it did not recruit enough drivers when it took over the franchise — leading to train cancellations.
The company has faced further disruption since it rolled out a plan to expand driver-only trains across its network — leading to strikes by both drivers and guards, concerned by passenger safety and disabled access.
Talks to resolve the dispute have reached a stalemate — with the company refusing to compromise on removing the guarantee of a second member of staff on trains.
A DfT spokesman said: “The Gibb Report, an independent report carried out by railway expert Chris Gibb, made clear that the main cause of widespread disruption on Southern has been union action.
“The RMT itself demanded the publication of this report.
“Performance has been significantly better since the new year but this can only improve if industrial action by the trade unions stops.
“The RMT needs to work with the train operators to help deliver the service that passengers deserve.”
A revised timetable, which axes a quarter of services, was brought in on Southern on June 28 after drivers’ union Aslef reinstated its overtime ban.