The £22million cost of Southern strike action to the taxpayer in lost revenue has been blamed on the ‘crazy nature’ of the rail operator’s contract put together by the Government.
The RMT union has been locked in a dispute with Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) since April 2016 over its further extension of driver-only operation and has held a total of 39 days of industrial action.
Train drivers’ union ASLEF joined the dispute in late 2016 but a deal was agreed with GTR last year.
Under the terms of GTR’s management contract all the money from ticket sales are passed straight to the Government, with the company then paid a sum of money to operate services.
Last week it was revealed the loss to date of farebox revenues due to strike action on GTR services is £22.2m, according to a Government response after a written question from Lloyd Russell-Moyle, Labour MP for Brighton Kemptown.
He said: “It is the Government’s mismanagement of the franchise and desire to take on the unions that has caused this entirely avoidable dispute that need not be taking place if the Government allows a agreement similar to that reached in Scotland and Wales.
“What’s worse, due to the crazy nature of this contact let by the Department for Transport where the Government take the revenue risk, all of the cost of this industrial action will be borne by the taxpayer rather than GTR.
“I am calling on Chris Grayling to convene an urgent summit with the unions as suggested by the RMT to resolve this dispute.”
Meanwhile Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT, suggested the structure of the contract was why Southern ‘had made no effort to negotiate a solution to the guards’ safety dispute’.
But a spokesman for GTR said: “We pass on all the money from our ticket sales straight to the Government - none comes to us - so his union’s unnecessary industrial action has cost the taxpayer £22 million.
“We have not removed any staff from our trains - nobody has lost their job. In fact, since we made the improvements the RMT opposes a year ago, we now have more staff on more trains, with more time to help passengers.”
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling added: “This is yet more nonsense from a desperate union that seems intent on causing needless disruption to passengers while wasting as much taxpayer money as possible.
“These figures merely prove that taxpayers have lost out on £22m of fare revenue as a direct result of the RMT’s actions - money that could otherwise have gone into improving the railway.”
He continued: “We have made it repeatedly clear that we want nothing more than for the RMT to stop playing political games with passengers and taxpayers, and call off their dispute, which has gone on for far too long.”
Driver-only operation sees drivers made responsible for opening and closing train doors, with guards transferred to the role of on-board supervisors.
Last week the National Audit Office, which scrutinises public spending for Parliament, found that Southern passengers had experienced the worst performance on the rail network over the last three years, while some of the problems could have been avoided if the DfT had ‘taken more care’ when designing the franchise.