Gibb criticises unions as primary cause for Southern woes

Unions RMT and Aslef have been described as the “primary cause” for Southern’s problems over the past year, as the much-anticipated Gibb report was finally published by the DfT.

Last year, Network Rail non-executive director Chris Gibb was asked to draw up an independent review into Southern’s Govia Thameslink Railway franchise to find out its primary problems and raise potential solutions.

And Gibb’s report, released yesterday, sharply criticised the actions of unions RMT and Aslef for causing disruption and difficulty for the franchise.

It also comes as the RMT announced more strikes on Southern in July, as well as fellow operators Northern and Merseyrail.

“The RMT and Aslef leadership, supported currently by their members, the railway people in conductor and driver grades, are the primary cause for the system integrity to fail,” Gibb’s report states.

“By taking strike action in their dispute over driver only operation (DOO), declining to work overtime and generally not supporting and undermining the system integrity.”

Gibb added that this was reducing services for passengers, and meaning that the operator had no room for error when it was understaffed due to strikes. He stated that industrial action was undermining the system and its value to the country that funds it through fares and taxes.

He called on union leaders for a change of direction in changing the system through engagement with operators and ensuring the safe dispatch and operation of trains – including the roll-out of DOO.

But Gibb did point to other issues in the system that were causing problems for Southern.

“On Southern all the elements of the system have been under strain: unreliable infrastructure, a timetable that is very tight and with overcrowded peak services, some key stations that are overcrowded, depots that are full and for historic reasons are in the wrong place, and people that are involved in informal and formal industrial action,” the report continued.

“The system cannot possibly work to passengers’ satisfaction with these components in this state.”

But in its response, the RMT showed no sign of letting up its pressure on Southern, or acknowledging the criticism from Gibb, as general secretary Mick Cash called the report a ‘fit up’ by the government.

“This is a classic case of he who pays the piper calls the tune. ‎It’s a shame Mr Gibb never bothered to talk to the unions and the staff and has allowed himself to be used by the government as a human shield over the Southern Rail fiasco,” he said.

Grayling: report is in line with DfT ambitions

Commenting on the report, transport secretary Chris Grayling said that the government were already acting on many of the recommendations in the review, such as putting aside £300m for Network Rail to improve rail infrastructure and resilience along the Southern and Thameslink rail networks.

“I’m pleased that since the new year, passengers have seen the benefits of performance improvements on Southern,” Grayling said. “A 23 percentage point increase in performance on Southern this year is significant, and it is delivering passengers the reliable, efficient rail service they deserve.”

He also stated that the report was in line with the direction that the department wanted to take the industry in as rail travel increases.

“Passenger journeys on Southern’s major routes into London have doubled in the last 12 years,” he pointed out. “I wish to say directly to those passengers – while I am pleased performance is improving – I understand that last year you were let down by train services that simply were not good enough. We took steps to improve compensation, but ultimately we need services that meet your expectations - for reliability, safety, comfort, cleanliness, and value for money - and I am determined to take the necessary steps to deliver needed improvements.”

And Paul Plummer, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), also said that Southern and Network Rail had already been working together to fix infrastructure on the franchise.

“As Chris Gibb’s thorough and considered report highlights, there is much more work to do and it is vital that the unions play their part and bring industrial action to a halt,” he said. “We want to make his recommendations work, one railway ensuring that we meet our customers' needs and expectations and make the sustained improvements that everyone wants to see.”

Transport watchdog calls for simplification of fare structures

Lianna Etkind, public transport campaigner at the Campaign for Better Transport, who have also been vocal in its criticism of Southern, said that the report should be used by the government, Southern and other rail operators to improve passenger experiences across the UK’s rail network.

“After months of delay, the Gibb report has important lessons for the government, and implications not just for Southern passengers, but for other franchises too,” she said. “Notably, there's a concerning suggestion that the government may have encouraged a bid with the fewest drivers. More needs to be done to ensure that supply of drivers meets the demand.”

Etkind added that Gibb was right to criticise the “absurdly complicated” fares structures, something that should be targeted across Southern and many other franchises.

“The task before the government now is to get Southern performance back on track as soon as possible and to ensure that all future franchises do much, much more to incentivise quality and passengers' experience,” she concluded.


Samir Kahn   23/06/2017 at 14:22

So Gibb forgotten that most of the lost train were because of Southern not having staff - still doesn't have enough drivers? Drivers on split shifts, split routes, called in at too short notice? As with Southern, Gibb delayed his report, was this because of unions too? Couldn't he find someone to type it up for him? What 23% improvement? False accounting does wonders. I still see disruption on a weekly basis, the management are incompetent and the report a cover up

Rick   23/06/2017 at 17:34

I am no Unions fan, but have to say this stinks of "here's the money and what to say!" - in my view anyway. To just emphasise Union action is ridiculous and blind. Unions can only succeed in disruption and disarray if opposed by weak and ineffectual Management. GTR rushed into this "Deal", not realising they werre being set up 100% by Dft to do Union Bashing. Thought they could easily resolve it and when things constantly fell apart and slowly got worse, realised their folly but can't get out of it. Their share price has sunk, staff are demoralised (or left), their reputation has been blasted, yet nothing has been achieved other than highlighting their ineptness. Many I speak to on the train, other than being totally sick of the whole bunch on all sides, do blame the Government (they've seen through the spin) and are also uneasy about the concept of just one member of trained staff, particularly in winter months. One of the greatest IR shambles in Railway History and Gibb has earned his crust by adding to it.

Jerry Alderson   23/06/2017 at 18:58

I didn't read all of the report - it is long - but I see that Chris Gibb included my view that letting drivers take control of trains and On-Board Supervisors serving passengers actually increases job security for RMT members. Continuing to do a job that is unnecessary (in the eyes of many, especially the official safety organisations) solely because of union muscle is not job security. It is simply the current situation and vulnerable to change. When the muscle shrinks the so-called job security vanishes. But the OBS has a job that delivers visible value to passengers - the customers who pay for every RMT member's salary. Mick Cash reported said "‎It’s a shame Mr Gibb never bothered to talk to the unions." Butt he point is that the report required talking to people to learn something that was not already know. The RMT's arguments have been well rehearsed and often repeated. Any talking to them was unlikely to lead to anything new. Whereas talking to, say, Dyan Crowther may have led to some honest comments that she would not have made whilst still employed by GTR.

Lutz   23/06/2017 at 23:38

I have not read this in full yet but I hope that this will form part of the evidence justifying the removal of the right to strike from railway works.

Ordinary Streatham Rail User   24/06/2017 at 08:06

It is a pity that after spending £300m the solution is to run fewer trains thus making a poor service worse for passengers. With 30+ years of using local railways I know that all that will happen is the rail industry collectively will fail in its new reduced timetable cancelling services as a matter of course with no thought for the fact that this is a public service that people actually need to be able to rely on. There needs to be a change in culture as well. Contrast this with the Mayor of London's draft Transport Strategy showing the need for increased frequencies and increased reliability.

Andrew G   24/06/2017 at 20:56

Ive been hearing about this on the Southern Electrics Group (SEG) Facebook page and Twitter page. https://www.facebook.com/Southern-Electric-Group-350543218317208/ https://www.twitter.com/SEG3142 http://www.southernelectric.org.uk

Andrew G   24/06/2017 at 20:59

Including this aswell. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/619795/chris-gibb-report-southern-rail.pdf

Tom2019090   25/06/2017 at 13:20

I don't know much about unions but I think their main reason is to protect workers and their rights. The proposed change in operation does not involve pay cuts and/or job losses. Other train operators have DOO trains, such as some Greater Anglia and London Overground trains. Plus many stations have mirrors/multiple cameras/RA indicators to help the driver see if it is safe to depart - in addition to the specialist equipment on the DOO trains.

Gabriel Oaks   26/06/2017 at 09:45

No doubt the unions will still try and continue with industrial action claiming the past thirty years of DOO operations is unsafe (Southern is proposing DCO), the RSSB are wrong on DCO, the ORR are wrong on DCO and the Gibb report is wrong on the blame attribution regarding DCO strikes......... .

Neil Palmer   26/06/2017 at 18:53

Mick Cash is using the old "repeat a lie often enough and people will believe it" method of "negotiation". In other words, refusing to negotiate. He's doing his members no favours as many of them are realising in ignoring recent RMT strike calls on Southern (and causing Mick to trot out his other lie about "rock solid" support among his members). Jerry A is right. Mick has got a guarantee of no job losses and no loss in pay. Anyone with half a brain would take the Cash and run.

Ian   26/06/2017 at 21:06

It is sad so many people have so little real understanding of how the railway actually works and the real risks involved. Then there are the political forces that include the Government funded RAIB, whose reports are noteworthy for, on occasion, skirting around some issues. Then a government department having a report produced that supports the Governments view, now what a surprise! Cynical probably, but after nearly 40 years "playing trains" and watching the Political shenanigans handed down from central government, that should not come as a shock. Oh, and by the way, my partner finds it nigh on impossible to travel by train without a Guard present.

Mark Hare   27/06/2017 at 11:39

I am no fan of Mick Cash and don't agree with his aggressive stance and all-out strike action. I don't see any end in sight for this long-running dispute. However, to say that ASLEF members 'declining to work overtime' is 'undermining the integrity of the system' is just utter twaddle. If 'the system' depends upon drivers working their Rest Days and overtime in order to run the basic timetable then clearly 'the system' has failed and not enough drivers are being employed. That is the root cause of trains being cancelled, not drivers refusing to work overtime.

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