Business leaders have written to major shareholders of the rail company at the centre of the bitter ongoing dispute with staff.
ACES, an alliance of chambers of commerce across East Sussex, said it took the move to write to all major investors in Southern’s parent company Go-Ahead Group Plc after the RMT union was excluded from talks, which saw Govia Thameslink Rail and the Aslef union reach an agreement over the burning issue of driver only operation trains.
The letter asks the shareholders ask why their valuable brands are associating themselves with what commuters regularly call #southernfail and if their investors are aware of the “damage done to the economy and the severe inconvenience to 23 per cent of rail passengers in the UK”.
It was penned by Eastbourne’s chamber of commerce boss Christina Ewbank who said if the almost one year old dispute is allowed to continue, “affecting jobs, families and businesses across Sussex”, it will do “irreparable damage to the local economy”.
Miss Ewbank said, “Ultimately Go-Ahead may lose the two franchises if their service levels do not improve which would no-doubt affect the value of Go-Ahead shares.”
“The Aslef Union has made an agreement with Southern Rail but the RMT has not. They seem to have been excluded from talks while Govia Thameslink Rail (GTR) and Aslef came to an agreement.
“Clearly, it was important the dispute with Aslef was resolved quickly as the drivers were able to bring the entire Southern network to a standstill while the RMT is able to bring about a third of the Southern network to a halt.
“We went to meet the rail minister Paul Maynard MP to discuss this but he explained it was not policy to speak to striking unions and they were therefore not prepared to intervene until the strikes were suspended, despite the damage to businesses across the south east.
“Strikes were suspended and so we were delighted Aslef and GTR were able to resolve their dispute.
“In December we wrote to Mick Cash at the RMT and Mick Whelan of Aslef, to Charles Horton, COO of GTR, and to Chris Grayling, Greg Clark, Paul Maynard and all the MPs in East Sussex, including Amber Rudd.
“We had responses from everyone other than GTR and Aslef and it should be noted the fastest response arrived from the Home Secretary. Given her immense workload it was surprising to hear nothing from GTR or Aslef.
“We know Southern Rail is not a normal franchise, it is a management agency working directly for the government so it is likely the government has been involved behind the scenes, for which we are grateful.
“However the original, highly damaging dispute with the RMT looks like reaching its first birthday with no end in sight.”