Railway workers mounted a protest at Hexham railway station on Tuesday against what they describe as the biggest threat to railway services since the Beeching Axe of the 1960s.
At the same time, there were angry protests at rail company Northern Rail’s decision to axe off-peak fares on the Tyne Valley line – a decision which will hit hundreds of local commuters.
The protests have been sparked by the Department for Transport’s consultation exercise on the future of the Northern and Trans Pennine rail franchises, drawn up in conjunction with Rail North, a conglomeration of 30 Northern local authorities.
Railway workers’ union RMT say the proposals will result in fare rises, service and timetable cuts and the loss of hundreds of essential rail jobs.
They also feel passenger service and safety will be affected by the proposed introduction of driver-only operation, the sacking of train guards, conductors, station de-staffing and ticket office closures.
Union members are particularly concerned that the proposed cuts will impact on disabled, older and women passengers.
The consultation is due to end on Monday of next week.
Further fuel has been added to the fires of discontent by Northern Rail’s announcement this week that, with effect from Monday September 8, off-peak tickets can no longer be used during weekday evenings on local rail services between Hexham and Newcastle.
Customers who currently use off-peak tickets during the evening peak will either have to travel earlier or later, or buy an anytime ticket.
> Although if they get rid of all the conductors and guards, who will be checking tickets anyway ?
The rail company claims the majority of customers who travel at the evening peak time already buy season tickets or anytime fares and won’t be affected by this change.
They could also find their trains are less crowded.
Commercial director, of Northern Rail, Richard Allan, said: “The majority of customers will be unaffected by these changes, but we want to make sure that those who are know about what is happening.”
Off-peak day/duo tickets will no longer be valid on weekdays on all services between Hexham and Newcastle between 4pm and 6pm.
Regular travellers could benefit from season tickets, which can be purchased for a week, month or year, and offer significant discounts.
The changes are being made after the DfT asked Northern to look at several options to help reduce subsidy as part of its new franchise agreement.
The franchise agreement includes commitments to invest in more customer information systems, better retailing facilities and environmental initiatives, which will lead to over £6m being invested to improve facilities for customers.
However, RMT has described the move as “a savage kick in the teeth for the travelling public”.
Acting general secretary of the RMT, Mick Cash, said: “People are already struggling with the burden of low pay and austerity and the fact that this has been cooked up by the Department for Transport in collusion with the privatisation pirates from Northern Rail is a warning of what’s to come.
“Let’s not forget that the core of the Government’s future plans for Northern and TPE is to axe jobs, throw the guards off the trains and jack up fares, while capacity to meet surging rail demand in the area is left to stagnate.
“The attack on the fare-paying public has already begun.”
Source – Hexham Courant, 20 Aug 2014
Could too much compassion in the welfare state hurt the very people it is supposed to help?
> How would we know ? Its never been tried….
Ed Miliband suggests that might be the case.
In a recent speech he drew on the ideas of a sociologist – Richard Sennett – who said compassion had the power to wound.
One of the Labour leader’s closest aides – the shadow minister Lord Wood – says that Sennett has made a “deep impression” on Miliband.
If the language sounds a bit academic, the reaction to Sennett’s theory at a South London woman’s group called Skills Network is anything but.
In a couple of rooms beside a railway line, women gather for training, moral support and shared childcare.
Many are single parents, some do not have permanent homes.
Most rely on the state. None trusts it.
“We are patronised by all these people that are supposed to be there for us,” says Onley.
“Anyone of official status comes to visit a family you’re almost on edge, even down to midwives after you’ve had a baby,” adds Hannah.
They are not merely sceptical of the state’s professionals, they see them as a threat.
One mother explains her experience of being visited by social workers.
“They always have a tick register in their purse and they take it out,” she says. “All these things are useless. Nothing is changing my life. In fact they’re wasting my time and their time.”
The feeling for some is not of disenchantment, but outright hostility.
Onley says: “Because you’re given something does that mean we should just lie there and take whatever you give us and don’t argue about anything or ask any questions?
“People need to be treated as equal human beings.”
Sennett blames that attitude on the way the state works. He has written: “Charity itself has the power to wound; pity can beget contempt; compassion can be intimately linked to inequality.“
> Yeah, but the biggest problem surely is not too much compassion – its not enough compassion.
Like the lack of compassion that enforces benefit sanctions that drive people to poverty and crime. Like the lack of compassion that claims that people at death’s door are fit for work.
The danger here is that the likes of Milliband (just another neo-liberal, after all) will use dodgy concepts like “too much compassion being bad for people” as a basis for more cuts.
And perhaps any sociologist who thinks “Charity itself has the power to wound; pity can beget contempt; compassion can be intimately linked to inequality”, wants to wait until they’re actually reliant on it before they start talking bollocks.
In an interview for BBC Radio 4’s the World at One programme, Wood says Labour is interested in the idea that inequality is partly about the gap in respect and power between the state, and people on the receiving end of its services and benefits.
In embracing some of Sennett’s thinking, Wood suggests Miliband intends to do things differently from the way previous Labour administrations have behaved.
“Here’s the difference with maybe Labour parties of before,” he says. “In addressing inequality you can’t just have a central state that adds up the ledger of who is doing well and who is doing not and just sort of reshuffle money around and ask people to fit certain categories that the government’s devised.
“You’ve got to think about shifting power back down as well as thinking about inequality in a deeper sense.”
> I’ve read that several times. It still seems to say exactly nothing…
That sounds a little like the critique of Gordon Brown’s attempts to deal with child poverty: that he was merely redistributing money to nudge people over a statistical line so they were no longer classed as impoverished.
Wood – who worked for Brown – does not repeat that criticism.
Pressed for examples of how his concerns translate into policy he highlights plans to hand control of parts of the work programme to some towns and cities and ideas about giving people more of a voice about where housing is built and how it’s allocated.
He argues that responsibility for policy needs to change so people affected by decisions feel they have a say.
Labour’s opponents will say that this is vague stuff.
The government argues it already understands the problem.
Ministers say they are changing the culture for benefit claimants, making their responsibilities clearer, and giving social housing tenants control of their own housing benefit.
Others will simply reflect that a focus on getting people off benefits and into jobs would sidestep many of these issues. With public money tight, officials would need to think carefully before skimping on the scrutiny they apply to the way funds are spent.
> If you wanted to be really radical, you could accept that the number of unemployed is around five times greater than the number of vacancies, and you will never get a quart into a pint pot.
Then, when you’ve got your head around this fact, then you might want to start thinking about where we go from here.
But until politicians can be honest enough to admit what the rest of us know – that there will always be more unemployed than jobs – then we’re never going to get anywhere.
Sennett is – unsurprisingly – pleased that Miliband embraces his thinking, but he doesn’t easily fit the mould of a “Miliband guru“.
He votes for the Green party and describes Miliband as “not a particularly charismatic politician” who may never have the chance to implement his idea.
And if Miliband does want to reshape Britain’s relationship with its welfare state, it won’t be easy.
In South London Hannah reflects on her encounters with its professionals.
“It’s almost like having the crocodile smile,” she says.
“You see all the smiley teeth and you’re waiting for the bite to come and get you.”
Source BBC News 17 April 2014
Rail unions have launched a legal battle with the Coalition Government over the sale of the East Coast Main Line.
They claim the planned “re-privatisation” of the service before the next general election in 2015 is being rushed through and that ministers have “cut corners”.
The rail unions Aslef and the TSSA said their members’ jobs and conditions, as well as the interests of passengers and taxpayers, were being threatened by a lack of consultation.
They are seeking a judicial review over the matter and are also challenging extensions to the Thameslink and Great Northern franchises.
Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan said: “It is imperative that we raise the genuine concerns of all stakeholders but, especially, the employees before this is rushed through. We cannot, in good conscience, allow the mistakes of the past to happen again.”
The East Coast Main Line franchise, which runs from Edinburgh, through the North East to London, has been in Government hands since November 2009 when the then franchise holders National Express gave it up, saying it could not afford to run it any more.
Before that, from 1996 to December 2007, it had been run by Great North Eastern Railway before it had the franchise taken away due to poor financial management.
It has been run for the Government since 2009 by Directly Operated Railways, which last year returned more than £200m to taxpayers as a result of its stewardship of the line.
In January the Government published a shortlist of three bids to run it as part of plans for the rail route’s re-privatisation. The bidders were FirstGroup, a joint bid from Eurostar and French firm Keolis, and another from Virgin and Stagecoach.
RMT acting general secretary Mick Cash said: “After the scandal of this Government robbing the British taxpayer of a billion pounds in the scramble to privatise the Royal Mail it is shocking that they are engaging in the same tactics to try and hand the East Coast Main Line back to their friends in big business.
“The British public have a right to openness and transparency when it comes to the ideologically-driven attempt to sell off Britain’s most successful rail-route to the speculators and chancers after two previous private sector failures on the same line.”
TSSA leader Manuel Cortes said: “The coalition knows only too well that rail franchising is not fit for purpose. Rail workers are at a loss to understand why the Government insists on going forward with a broken system which threatens the interests of passengers and taxpayers.
“We can only conclude that the ideology which saw Royal Mail flogged off on the cheap continues to thrive.”
A Department for Transport spokeswoman said: “We will vigorously defend this claim and remain committed to the franchising programme.
“As these legal proceedings are ongoing it would not be appropriate to comment further at this stage.”
Source – Newcastle Journal 07 April 2014