Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 240-259)



  240. Would you confirm that Mr Rix?
  (Mr Rix) I can only comment and confirm that there are indeed problems with the Strategic Rail Authority in allowing a TOC to manage its industrial relations and agreements within the last 12 months of a franchise. Towards the latter end of last year the Arriva Trains Northern franchise was faced with the stupid consequences of being heavily fined by the Strategic Rail Authority for not running services when indeed they had recruited more train drivers than any other TOC in the UK after they inherited the problems of the previous MTL franchise which they bought out. As part of that deal, there was to be a deal with my trade union that would lift the pay and conditions of our members through a re-structuring, that is a productivity arrangement was put in place and the SRA effectively blocked that deal for some time, yet was fining Arriva for service cancellations. This is the silly situation we have and that is why one of the points we have made to the Secretary of State recently is that to overcome these arrangements perhaps there should be some sensible re-introduction of a national framework of agreements back within the railway industry so they can look at these key critical issues which can resolve rather than create industrial relations problems which we have at this moment.

  241. Are you saying you must have changes in pay and conditions rather than the train operators playing a greater part in agreeing a fairly responsible recruitment strategy?
  (Mr Rix) They have put in place a fairly responsible recruiting strategy. It has been agreed with ourselves and indeed Arriva at this moment have a surplus of train drivers whom they are putting into a lot of places. They have kept their word. I did want to give some opening remarks earlier but if I might I shall briefly touch on some of those things which affect this issue. What I find very strange is that no-one at the SRA has ever justified economically the benefits to the northern region of creating a trans-Pennine split. I have asked this question many times. What benefit will the creation of a trans-Pennine split bring to the northern region when Trans-Pennine are fundamentally interlinked into the operation of what will be the proposed Northern rail services? I am fully in agreement with the creation of North Rail. I think that will create a major reintegration of services across the North which will interlink between passenger transport authorities. There are, however, still some key elements which are missing. One is that if you take the Trans-Pennine element away from North Rail, what incentive do you give in a public/private partnership initiative for investors to invest to see a return? That is the nonsense of what we are seeing. On the one hand our union does not agree with the policy of going down that application, but if they are to go down that road on the application of the Trans-Pennine franchise, what is the economic benefit for it and what would it do to regenerate the northern regions? It would not do anything. It will be branded as a form of inter-city company. There will be high fares as we see with inter-city companies. You will be seeing structures to price down demand. The benefits in terms of increasing patronage across the Trans-Pennine belt, which is one of the highest densities of travel outside the southern part of England, will be lost and it will be re-opening a corridor just for business travel. That is not going to benefit all of the citizens in the North of England. In some respects, the proposals to push ahead with the Trans-Pennine franchise are based around a policy which was set a couple of years ago. Unfortunately I do not think the Government have relaxed enough to allow the new administration the chance to re-think and re-look at the proposals because I do not think it will bring any economic benefit whatsoever to the citizens of the North of England.

Mr Donohoe

  242. How do you see your relationships with the new company? Has there been any opening of dialogue with Network Rail?
  (Mr Crow) The dialogue we have had is that we have been told it will be a not-for-profit company. That is all we have been told.

  243. You have not met with management.
  (Mr Crow) No, not on the industrial relations side, just to lay out the business.

  244. You have not made any approach to discuss.
  (Mr Crow) We have met them under the auspices of the TUC. The actual management team at the moment have just spelled out to us what their intentions are, that it will be a not-for-profit company, how it will be organised, but all the work will be done by contractors, the same contractors that are there now making a profit. It is a bit of a contradiction really to say that it is a not-for-profit company but the people doing the maintenance will be making a profit.

  245. How do you see your relationship with that new company?
  (Mr Crow) The same as it is now. We have some 7,000 members organised in that company, signalling grades and crossing keepers. We see that our existing relationship with them will continue as it is and the existing agreements will continue unless otherwise negotiated.

  246. You have the engineers in membership. Do you believe that there are enough engineers both in terms of real engineers and signalling engineers in the northern area?
  (Mr Crow) No; far short.

  247. Has the situation been improving? Has there been any change to that over the last six months?
  (Mr Crow) No, not in the last six months. In the last six weeks especially, as a result of a review which was done before Potters Bar, Jarvis the main contractor in the North of England is now taking on a substantial number of engineering grades. They did take that decision before Potters Bar.

  248. Do you recruit amongst any contractors?
  (Mr Crow) Yes; all the contractors. We have negotiating rights with the major contractors.

  249. How does that relationship perform?
  (Mr Crow) It was the follow-on from British Rail when they went into British Rail Infrastructure Services and then transformed into seven infrastructure companies, basically being First Engineering, Jarvis, Balfour Beatty, Serco Rail, Amey, Amec. They are the companies which operate in the railway network and we have negotiating rights with all of those groups of people. Our largest group of grades within the RMT is in the infrastructure contractors.

  250. We have been told that the cost of engineering works is escalating and it has been criticised as being poor value for money. How would you see a solution?
  (Mr Crow) The solution would be for all the work to be done by Railtrack directly and the people to come back in and work for Railtrack.

Mr Bennett

  251. So Railtrack would pay less in wages.
  (Mr Crow) No. The reason why it costs so much is because there are half a dozen consultants working around out there instead of workers. What we need is more people with shovels out there than clipboards.

Mr Donohoe

  252. Do you have evidence to that effect? Do you have evidence to suggest that there is an awful lot of wastage within the system at present?
  (Mr Crow) Yes, there is. Everything is doubled up. For every infrastructure supervisor, they have a mirror person they report to, a client/contractor situation. All the work that is done out there is on Railtrack contracts. If Railtrack did not want to give those contracts out, they could do the work in-house. As we speak they are about to let another contract out in the West of Britain for renewal/maintenance contracts where they have not looked at the question of whether it would be more efficiently done in-house. Second, how can they can go ahead with giving out more contracts when they have not had a finding out of what happened at Potters Bar and, 20 months since Hatfield, there have been no inquiry results from either the Health and Safety Executive or the British Transport Police? We say: wait for those results to come out first of all before you go ahead and award further contracts.
  (Mr Rix) There is another example of the relationship not just with Railtrack but with the Train Operating Companies. If you create further splits of Train Operating Companies, you are creating more staff. It would sound very strange to some people for a person from a trade union to make this point but the essence of coverage of staff is also another point. You have to have the same managerial interfaces, so nearly everything in certain respects on the administration side has trebled, whereas on the operations side, there has been a reduction. The other point is that the creation of splits in the franchises will actually mean that you need far more train drivers and operating staff to operate those services because they will have to cover those extra services. Then what you reintroduce is a new training programme because this will be a new company and under the regulations and rights of employment no-one has to transfer from Arriva if they have vacancies already because they will be swallowed up in their own franchise. Technically, no-one will need to transfer to the Trans-Pennine company, so technically you could be creating a new company to run services from day one and have no staff to operate it. This is the ridiculous situation which they are creating in the railway industry. It is just creating more unsettled views and it is also why people are moving around the industry or moving out of the industry because there is no security or settlement.

  253. Is there not a trend towards a lessening of the number of TOCs which will be in existence in terms of company ownership?
  (Mr Rix) Yes, but say for example in the North of England at the moment where you have First North Western, you have Arriva Trains Northern, the SRA proposed the creation of one TOC which would be called North Rail, forgetting for the moment the inter-city TOCs which run parallel up the West and East Coast. They are creating one TOC, North Rail. Then they are going to split that TOC to create another Train Operating Company. They are going to move two sets of staff into one company and then move two sets of staff back out. This really is an economic nightmare and I just do not know what benefit it is going to bring to people in the North.

Mrs Ellman

  254. What are your concerns about personal security for staff?
  (Mr Crow) In what way?

  255. What concerns do you have about security for staff?
  (Mr Crow) Assaults on staff?

  256. Yes.
  (Mr Crow) Assaults on staff have gone on up. What happens mainly is that it is the frustration of certain passengers and the first person they see is not the Managing Director normally, it is the station staff who are collecting tickets. They take their frustration out on our members of staff who end up being assaulted and as a result of that we carry their case forward for criminal injuries compensation. What we believe is that people want a guard on the train, we believe they feel safer with a guard on the train, not just to open doors and shut doors but they feel safer when there is an actual human being around rather than a Help Point. There are many Help Points on stations now where you press a button but it is no good if you are being attacked. People want to see actual people in uniform out and about on the patch. We should like to say that there is a human factor, but we want personal security for our staff when they are working about stations and we believe in personal security for the travelling public. We are totally opposed to the open station concept because we believe there should be good, uniformed, highly skilled staff serving the travelling public on a day to day basis.

  257. Are the Strategic Rail Authority and Railtrack giving enough attention to this?
  (Mr Crow) I do not think so. I was elected on 13 February and I have been Assistant General Secretary for eight years and I have only met the Strategic Rail Authority twice in that period. No, I do not see much strategy coming from them.

  258. Is there a particular problem with vandalism?
  (Mr Crow) Yes, there is a big problem with vandalism. All the three unions, in conjunction with Railtrack and the British Transport Police, have been working together on the problem of materials which are left at the side of tracks. Normally the vandals pick them up and throw them onto the tracks and one thing and another. Especially during the holidays, Easter, half-term and summer holidays children are getting through fences which have broken down and playing about the tracks which causes major concerns.

  259. What more would you like to be done to deal with that?
  (Mr Crow) I should like a review of the British Transport Police. To be honest with you, I think the British Transport Police have failed miserably. I do not think they can cope with the problems in the railway industry and I think we should look at a situation where the Metropolitan Police or the county police forces take over their role. They seem to be very weak and failing to provide a proper security service out there for either the passenger who gets injured or our members.

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