Axing of guards' jobs down to local Labour decisions, says minister

JOE Anderson, Steve Rotheram and the region's Labour politicians are to blame for the current standoff over Merseyrail's controversial plans for driver-only trains, according to a senior transport minister.

The dispute has seen hints of "Miseryrail" returning as Merseyrail staff continue a series of strikes in protest at proposals to axe the jobs of the network's 207 train guards.

Liverpool Walton MP Dan Carden highlighted the issue in the House of Commons last night (Wednesday), blaming a government decision to cut the city region’s train’s budget by millions of pounds.

But the Rail Minister Paul Maynard pointed a finger of blame at the city region’s Labour decision makers.

He told Carden: “As Labour members will know, they have a multiplicity of local Labour politicians to discuss this matter with, including the chair of Merseytravel (Cllr Liam Robinson), the elected city Mayor in Liverpool (Joe Anderson) and the elected city region Mayor (Carden’s predecessor Steve Rotherham), all of whom have stood behind this decision. If we truly believe in devolving transport powers, we have to respect the decisions that are taken.”

It emerged during the debate that the Dutch state-owned co-operator of Merseyrail, Abellio, puts guards on its trains in Holland, but proposes to run a service without them on its Mersey franchise.

You say you wanted devolution: Rail Minister Paul Maynard

Merseyrail’s proposal, to remove all its 207 guards, comes after transport authority Merseytravel signed a 30-year contract for new rolling stock worth £460 million.

Carden said figures obtained under a freedom of information request by the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers showed that in the past five years there were more than 1,200 on-train crimes on Merseyrail.

"The figures also show that almost 900 crimes, or 72 percent, took place before 8pm, which was the time at which Merseyrail indicated that it would seek to keep a second, non-safety-critical person on trains. That begs the question that if Merseyrail acknowledges the need for a second person on the train after 8pm, why not before?

Train guards’ safety critical duties include protecting the train, securing the doors and dealing with emergencies such as derailments, evacuations, fires, driver incapacity and failures of train safety system.

Despite several days of strike action, the public still overwhelmingly back the guards, said Carden.

Recent polling shows that 78 percent of regular passengers oppose the removal of guards from Merseyrail. The entire trade union movement and the North West TUC support the guards, and the Labour Party’s policy is clear: to oppose any extension of DOO. The Welsh Government have now guaranteed a guard on every train for future franchises and Scotland has made similar long term arrangements. The shadow Secretary of State wrote to train operators last week to tell them that a Labour Government would halt any plans to extend DOO. Merseytravel’s former chairman, Mark Dowd, remains fully opposed to removing the guards, saying that “common sense should prevail.”

Rails Minister Paul Maynard, put the decision to axe the guards down to the area’s elected mayors and local Labour politicians.

“As Merseyrail is a devolved concession, key strategic decisions are made at a local level by the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority,” said Maynard.

“We have committed £82 million in this calendar year, which will give Merseytravel the confidence to make investments in rolling stock. It can choose how to invest that money. I think that Labour members would be deeply disappointed, or indeed apoplectic, if I were to start questioning the decisions of the elected city Mayor of Liverpool or of the city region Mayor. The point of devolution is that local people have to take these decisions, through their representatives, and that is what they are doing….. there is no reason to suspect that local politicians in Liverpool are unable to take decisions in the interests of their city region,” added Maynard.