Letter to Rt Hon Chris Grayling - Southern Rail disruption

03 January 2017

Gatwick Diamond Initiative Co-Chairs write to the Secretary of State for Transport following discussions held at the Management Board and Promote Group regarding the Southern Rail disruption.

Letter to Rt Hon Chris Grayling - Southern rail disruption
22 December 2016

Dear Secretary of State 

Economic impact of Southern Rail strikes 

The Gatwick Diamond Initiative is a business-led strategic partnership focused on creating the right conditions for business to flourish across the Gatwick Diamond economic area which, of course, includes your constituency. You will appreciate how concerned we are about the impact the prolonged, and seemingly unending, disruption to rail services is having on our businesses and other employers. 

You may have seen the recent study by the University of Chichester which has estimated that Southern Rail disputes have cost the UK some £300m so far. The findings put the impact on the economy at about £11m for every day and, if the next scheduled strike days go ahead, the total would be brought to just under £396m. The attached press release, issued by the University, gives further detail on the findings of the study. 

This estimate is based on the costs to the thousands of commuters who were delayed or have had to miss work, and the University emphasises that it is a conservative estimate. It does not account for other impacts such as loss of sales, travel delays, staff morale and motivational issues, or individual loss of income. Nor does it cover the consequences of smaller businesses having to close, relocate or lay-off staff who cannot get to work. Connectivity to London is a key part of our offer to potential inward investors and this will also be undermined with longer-term impact. 

Clearly, this is a national issue not confined to Southern Rail and its employees. Not only is the economic impact of national significance, it is increasingly clear that the unions see this dispute as an opportunity to make a stand on what they see as a country-wide threat to their members arising from how rail services are operated. This is evident from the parallels they draw with the claimed “managed decline” of British Rail. 

In your letter of 12 December to MPs and rail users, you made the very important point about problems experienced on non-strike days too. Whilst ongoing and unofficial work-to-rule may be the biggest factor, you also acknowledged the many failures of the Network Rail infrastructure, as well as communication and other shortcomings of the train operator. Looking at this wider picture, it must now be accepted that the train operator and the unions are incapable of resolving these issues.

We know that you have offered to become more directly involved and do not doubt your commitment to trying to solve this problem. With your ultimate responsibility for both the railway franchise system and the railway infrastructure, we believe the Government must take, and be seen to take, the lead in ending the current unacceptable impact on businesses and misery for commuters. This applies to both the ongoing infrastructure and rail operator deficiencies as well as the formal and informal industrial action. 

This has now moved well beyond a matter of local concern capable of local resolution, to one that is having significant national economic impact. The University of Chichester’s study probably just scratches the surface of this, but I hope it will be helpful to you in providing the essential national government leadership. 

I am copying this letter to the MPs for constituencies within the Gatwick Diamond - Sir Paul Beresford, Crispin Blunt, Sam Gyimah, Henry Smith, Jeremy Quin and Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Soames 

Whilst we understand the political issues and difficulties involved, we ask you all to do everything you can to ensure that this damaging disruption is halted as soon as possible. 

I am also copying to and Tim Wates, Chair of the Coast to Capital LEP. 

Yours sincerely, 

Paul Gresham - Chair of the Gatwick Diamond Overview Forum
David Butcher - Chair of the Gatwick Diamond Management Board 
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