Published: 6th April 2014
In a short announcement, troubled train operator London Midland has announced that it is to shed around 150 jobs in a restructuring plan. The company has said on its website that it will not affect train service delivery as the job losses will be amongst back-room staff based in Birmingham.
But the company has suffered continuing difficult industrial relations leading to continuing issues in delivering its franchise commitments to the Department for Transport (DfT). These are predominantly due to unrest by drivers who have had several bouts of industrial unrest causing cancellations to services. The most recent disruption was in November 2013 with many services delayed or cancelled the company admitted.
The company is owned by Govia, the partnership between the Go-Ahead Group and Keolis a subsidiary of SNCF, French Railways and says it is facing rising costs and the proposed changes will focus on head office and support staff.
LM’s managing director, Patrick Verwer said, “The service to our passengers will not be affected by the changes. We have made good progress over the last year. Our train service is much improved and higher customer satisfaction scores tell us passengers can see the difference.
“Like every other business however, we have to keep our costs under control. Our proposal has been designed to increase efficiency and reduce our costs while continuing to improve trains and station services.”
Mr Verwer added, “We are committed to providing quality journeys for everyone and this investment demonstrates how we listen to our passengers and act on their feedback. Faster, newer trains on our network is exactly what passengers and commuters want to see – and we’ll be providing them with exactly that – alongside an increase in services”.
The ongoing driver shortage was still affecting London Midland services and they said that about 20% of its 1,311 daily services were delayed or cancelled throughout October. Official statistics suggest that the company has failed to operate around 3% of scheduled trains on a regular basis.
The Rail Maritime Union (RMT) has criticised the rail company’s plans to axe 150 jobs saying the scheme will "decimate" frontline staffing and is threatening an "all-out-fight" with London Midland.
Mick Cash, the RMT’s acting general secretary, said: "It is disgraceful that this cuts bombshell was dropped on staff by London Midland through the media - staff have been sent threatening letters telling them that their jobs and livelihoods are on the block without any explanation as to why.
"The cynical attempt to claim that the 150 jobs threatened are not important is a kick in the teeth for staff who make London Midland tick - the plans have generated a wave of anger across all grades. "RMT will now look at an all-out campaign, up to and including the use of industrial action, to stop these cuts, lift the gun from our members’ heads and get proper and meaningful negotiations back on track."
The union also described London Midland’s statement that the cuts would not affect frontline services as a "cynical attempt to mislead the public".
In the last three months of 2012, London Midland was forced to offer compensation to tens of thousands of passengers after over 1,000 services were disrupted due to a lack of drivers. The company is currently training 73 drivers and it takes a year for these trainees to be approved for driving.
The DfT had instructed London Midland to offer thousands of cheap tickets to off-peak passengers as a result of poor service and also to spend £1.5million on station improvements.
LM has said that they had a lot of drivers leave because of retirement, ill health. But surely the company would monitor the age profile of all groups of staff to see if it was likely many would be retiring.
At the BBRUA AGM on April 2 Barrie Cottam, LM’s Head of West Coast service group and commercial director Richard Brooks gave a short presentation and asked for any comments.
They were asked about the lack of disabled access to Bletchley platform six served uniquely by Bedford trains accessed by a flight of 36 steps, there is no lift available. There is one however on Platform five to which Bedford trains are diverted when requested by passengers in a wheelchair.
The LM representatives were asked if the Bedford service could be timetabled to use platform five all the time which is fully accessible. It would also provide a cross-platform connection with services from Northampton and Milton Keynes, a real benefit for passengers, especially if with a small child in a buggy.
The collective London Midland response was that they could not get Network Rail to switch the Bedford trains permanently into Platform 5 and when pressed, said that LM met their franchise commitments with the DfT who were in essence, their customers. When asked about Bedford trains being extended to and from Milton Keynes, again the answer was not during this franchise.
This is totally at odds to the official Govia website which says that they add value for their passengers and that they are customer and people focused saying that: we think like a passenger and invest in our people. We strive to be in-step with passenger requirements.
Maybe the LM pair were not aware of this policy.
Govia also says they manage complicated and busy networks efficiently and effectively, providing customers and Government with value for money and that they:
Thrive on building good relationships with the transport agencies and collaborate with our key suppliers such as Network Rail. Our partnerships have enabled us to deliver a range of improvements for our passengers, including more accessible stations and carbon-cutting technology and that they operate safely, and are involved in our local communities.
The LM management team also said that they had invested £350,000 in information screens non Bedford to Bletchley platforms as part of their compensation to the DfT for poor ongoing performance. The screens are there but display a message to call a phone number for train running information.
The line is part of the DfT Community Rail Partnership scheme and for example. Millbrook station has been adopted by volunteers who make sure the station is in good order but that a bench that has jagged edges has gone unrepaired for two years despite London Midland being informed.