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Grayling under fire for desire to keep London rail services from ‘Labour clutches’

Transport secretary Chris Grayling has been urged to resign from his post after a letter leaked to the London Evening Standard showed that he once opposed rail devolution to London to keep it “out of the clutches” of a Labour mayor.

He explained to fellow MPs on Tuesday that costs were the reason for his decision to overrule a plan for Transport for London to take over responsibility for suburban rail services, despite firm commitments from the former secretary of state – frustrating mayor of London Sadiq Khan and commissioner Mike Brown in the process.

But a 2013 letter Grayling sent to the then London mayor Boris Johnson has cast doubt on the real reasons for cancelling the deal. He wrote that he did not want a Labour mayor to have control of services, despite Johnson’s desire to have TfL take over Southern, Southeastern and South West metro services.

“While I am generally a great supporter of what you are doing in London, I would not be in favour of changing the current arrangements – not because I have any fears over the immediate future but because I would like to keep suburban rail services out of the clutches of any future Labour mayor,” Grayling wrote in his letter.

“The continuation of the system we have at the moment does at least mean that MPs and local authorities from outside the London area would have a remit over train services in our areas, which I would not like us to lose.”

The letter was criticised by Labour and Conservative politicians alike, with Tory MP Bob Neill saying that the views expressed by Grayling compromised his position as transport secretary, thus making him “unfit for office”.

Khan also expressed frustration that Grayling blocked his request, despite the former transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin agreeing with Johnson that devolution would be allowed when the three franchises came up for renewal.

“I simply do not understand why the government is now so vehemently opposed to improving suburban rail services in London,” Khan said. “I sincerely hope it is not because they are reluctant to give control of these lines to a Labour mayor – commuters’ lives are far, far more important than party politics.”

Labour London Assembly member Andrew Dismore called the decision “the greatest shame,” saying that where TfL has managed services it has produced some of the best performances, and that rail devolution would mean better, more reliable services for paying passengers.

Grayling has yet to comment on the leaked letter, but the DfT has pointed to the secretary of state’s remarks in the House of Commons earlier this week where he set out why he refused Khan’s request.

The transport secretary told Neill in the Commons that the benefits set out in Khan’s business plan and by TfL, which did not involve increases in capacity on certain lines, were not worth putting the capital’s railways through their biggest restructuring since the 1920s.

“My judgment is that we can achieve the benefits that TfL is arguing for through partnership, rather than through massive reorganisation, and that is my aim,” he concluded.

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Manchester Mike   08/12/2016 at 15:02

Another twit in charge of Transport. He is indeed "unfit for office". The sooner he steps down and the Government appoints someone with some experience in transport, the better. Else the whole of the South East will see increasing rail chaos.

Jimbo   09/12/2016 at 09:41

Actually, Grayling is much better than recent SoS's - at least he wanted the job. The question with devolution was always how the improvements were going to be paid for. TfL finances are already under strain because the fares freeze, so devolution was always going to be about how much the government were willing to pay TfL to run the services. It is likely Khan asked for too much as he has lots of other ideas to fund.

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