A very active few days in Parliament this week. I gave a speech in Westminster on Tuesday asking, amongst other things, why the Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling MP, and the Department for Transport (DfT) had consistently refused to meet both the RMT and ASLEF trade unions together and with no pre-conditions, to try and negotiate a resolution over the ongoing rail dispute, which is causing our local economy so much damage? Not forgetting also the appalling frustration and inconvenience experienced by many rail users.
Of course, the reason is obvious. The DfT and the Government wish to bring in, ‘driver only trains’ (DOO) across the network but to do this they need to break the RMT, which represents the guards. Which is why they allow Southern Rail to only negotiate with the unions separately. This is also why the DfT sanctioned such eye-popping wage increases to the drivers represented by ASLEF, offering them an annual salary of £60,000 for a four day week. It’s the old divide and conquer rule and it is clearly not working, as we go into the 19 month of the strike.
Perhaps the government needs to re-think its strategy?
For the record, I am against DOO for a number of reasons amongst that I have been told on numerous occasions by female constituents they would have real concerns about their safety if travelling back to Eastbourne at night, in an empty carriage, without knowing a second member of staff was on the train. Equally, what about the lack of disability access without a second member of staff on board? Or indeed the secondary school children who use the network frequently to travel to school but would be doing this without an on-board supervisor? I suspect a lot of parents, disabled people and women, if they were asked, would actually prefer to keep the additional staff on a train service they used themselves.
So why does the government, through Southern Rail, refuse to meet both unions, together, with no pre-conditions, to thrash out a deal and end this long running and highly damaging rail strike? Well, on Tuesday, I failed to get an answer from the Minister in a debate, so I asked the Prime Minister during Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday. Guess what, she didn’t answer my question either.
Rest assured that I will not give up and will keep pressing. My view is the sooner ‘all’ sides sit down together to negotiate, the sooner we can end the dispute which is causing us in Eastbourne and many others across the South East so much damage. And the national media are beginning to pick up on my specific query which is also increasing the momentum behind my initiative. Frankly a fundamental advantage of having the letters MP after ones name, is to know how to use that influence for the good of Eastbourne. And I do, and I will.
Meanwhile, Brexit keeps chuntering along in Westminster and in Brussels. There have been some mischievous rumours by the usual suspects locally that I have gone back on my promise to respect the results of the referendum. This is nonsense of course. Fair-minded people in Eastbourne and Willingdon know I keep my word to the town. And to reiterate in the good pages of the Herald; as promised I will not support calls for a second referendum and will vote for the Brexit Bill in two years’ time, when it finally comes back before Parliament. I will also in Westminster push the government to secure as good a Brexit as possible and this includes putting all the cards on the negotiating table cards to ensure that British companies do not pay trade tariffs to the EU. Whether the Conservative government picks up these cards and deals them practically, well, only time will tell?
There’s lots happening locally as ever. It was a pleasure to support Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life event last weekend, especially as I am the patron. It was a wonderful, fun and, at times, moving 24 hours. Well done to Janet Geering and her utterly brilliant family and team. Equally, another fantastic Eastbourne event was held by Sovereign Saints FC in Willingdon over the weekend. I’m a huge fan of this kids’ football club. They’re just great in their encouragement of the children, and the club’s organisational skills are simply outstanding. Over a hundred junior teams played in their tournament across the weekend. That’s an awful lot of people to organise! It was a pleasure to be there for part of the event and present the trophies. So, likewise, well done to Paul Garnell and your volunteers. You and Janet and your respective helpers, all make Eastbourne proud.
That’s it folks – have a great weekend and hope to see you around town.