Belfast Telegraph

Union urges independent assessment of Southern Railway dispute

An independent body should examine the running of Southern Railway because ministers and transport department officials are "up to their ears" in "cosy relationships" with the company, a union is urging.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport union is writing to MPs claiming the Department for Transport is unfit to impartially assess whether Southern's owners Govia Thameslink Railway should be stripped of the franchise.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has to decide this week if the disruption to services over the past year has been outside the company's control.

A judicial review of the Government's handling of the Southern franchise will be held if he does not meet a deadline set by a High Court judge.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: "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.

"We are therefore calling for the full publication and disclosure of GTR's claims and for the assessment of those claims to be taken away from the DfT and given to an independent body."

Southern services have been disrupted for over a year because of industrial action, staff shortages and other problems.

A report for the government by rail executive Chris Gibb largely blamed the unions for the disruption.

The RMT told MPs the Department for Transport was "biased" and could not make an impartial assessment of GTRs claim that the disruption was outside its control.

Mr Gibb did not speak to unions before writing his report and a section believed to make recommendations was redacted, said the RMT.

The Department for Transport said the RMT needed to work with train operators to help deliver the service travellers deserve.

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 themselves 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."

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