My letter to Craig Whittaker MP re: Northern (rail)
18th December 2019
I am writing to you today in my capacity as founder of Northern Resist – the commuter campaign group, of 4’336 people, set up to hold the Northern franchise to account.
As I’m sure you’re already aware, the situation with Northern has further deteriorated since members of our group met with you and Pete Myers, Stakeholder Manager for Northern, at the beginning of 2018, added to a scale of continuous deterioration over a number of years. The situation for myself, and many of your constituents is unmanageable. To give you a typical example, of what is deemed to be a journey with minimal disruption, I left my house at 07:45 yesterday morning and returned at 21:00. My working hours within that period were 10:45 – 18:00. My journey home last night involved three trains over a 28 mile journey.
On Monday 16th December, the new timetables were implemented. All commuters were likely to have had advanced notice of this which confirms that Northern were aware of their own new timetables due to be implemented, yet once again, the planning and foresight of managing these changes was seemingly absent. Despite knowing the impact on passengers, having implemented new timetables in May and December both this year and in previous years, the coordination, communication, and contingency planning, was wholly inadequate and the impact on passengers was catastrophic.
Whilst the commuting experience is notably worse than usual during these timetable changes, it is of great importance that we the customers, Northern as the service provider, and you as our elected representative for Parliament do not ignore the consistent incompetence and inadequacy of this service at all other times.
Further examples of the other issues that exist within Northern and have a direct daily impact on passengers include the new trains which often break down and a significant shortage of drivers trained to drive them; a shortage of staff to meet the demands in general; poor communication through staff and digital methods such as display boards and mobile apps; inadequate toilet facilities which are frequently out of order or, as an example of an incident on a train I was on last week, toilets which overflow and leak all over the carriage damaging personal items and soiling people’s footwear; significant delays and cancellations; lack of heating during the winter months; Northern’s failure to respond to people’s concerns by either ignoring written complaints or blocking people from social media; the failure of the Government to commit to the electrification plans; the significant lack of funding and investment from the Government during the last nine years; a failure to meet the needs of disabled people by not having adequate resources; the impact on people’s mental and physical health and that of their families, and this list isn’t exhaustive.
People have been dismissed from their employment for lateness as a result of Northern’s inadequate service. Others have given up commuting to buy cars which is in conflict with the message of encouraging the use of public transport to help the environment. Many have paid extortionate fees in extra child care, or missed funerals, or been forced to move homes simply to cope with the commute. This is at complete odds with developing infrastructure in a wealthy economy and promoting social mobility.
In addition to a service that falls well below expected standards, Northern, supported by the Government implement fare increases on an annual basis during the first week of January. This is a major concern for many given the difficult financial circumstances that people face at that time of year, but also it is completely unjustified. We have seen zero investment in the rail network, despite 98 pence of every pound of tax payer’s money apparently going back into the rail network. We know that this goes to shareholders and is not invested into the service. We know that the subsidies from the Government to the franchise are not used to adequately fund the service, they are paid to the shareholders and the engineers of the lucrative contracts of privatisation.
This is why privatisation has failed. Even your esteemed colleagues in Westminster, and the majority of the electorate, think the privatisation of the rail network compounded by the lack of investment, has failed. It is impossible to make a profit with public transport whilst maintaining any level of service. It’s either one or the other and at the moment we are the victims of the other and we’re not prepared to accept it any longer.
As a result of these ongoing failings and a profit before people approach to running the franchise, we have set out a number of key demands which we expect you, as our MP for the Calder Valley, to advocate for in Parliament. They are as follows:
- Safe, punctual, reliable trains;
- 33% reduction in fares year on year until Northern achieves a 70% punctuality rate;
- Suspension of fare increases in Jan 2020 and continuing until a minimum of a 65% overall reliability standard is achieved and a target of less than 33% short formed target is achieved;
- Improve communication through display boards, staff and ensuring mobile apps correspond with the information from Northern;
- Unblock all members on Twitter;
- Create a passenger liaison group to progress ideas and improve communication between us – the paying customers – and Northern;
- Nationalisation of the rail networks with adequate funding from the Department for Transport.
Given the recent majority of your Government and the Prime Minister’s promises for the North, we expect to see the immediate results of this. The Conservative manifesto, unlike that of David Cameron’s in 2010, was not founded on the political choice of austerity, but an apparent recognition that the North has been underfunded for nine years.
To ensure that these promises aren’t reneged on, and the Government doesn’t forget about us, we commit to staging protests with our key demands as the underpinning principles and we will invite all corners of the media to join us. So far they have been very keen to get involved.
On a personal note, in my capacity as your constituent in the Calder Valley, in which I have lived my whole life, I will be writing to you on a weekly basis to document my daily issues with Northern, and I will be encouraging everybody to do the same. The issues I will be contacting you about will not centre entirely around the public transport issues, in fact they will focus on a wide range of topics of local relevance so that you are encouraged to justify the handsome sum you are paid for being an MP.
I, like many, many others within the Valley, feel you have been incompetent, uncommitted, and uninterested in issues of grave importance over the last nine years, from the devastating floods to school cuts to women’s rights to the roll-out of Universal Credit.
You have been a consistently poor parliamentarian and your performance as our representative for the constituency has fallen well below the standards required and expected of an MP. Your appalling voting record, failure to stand up for the most vulnerable, and contempt for your constituents is notable and I have no doubts that had Brexit and people’s dislike for the leader of the opposition not been the prevailing factors in this election, you would be out of a job.
Now that there is no longer an ineffective and crumbling opposition, and the Prime Minister has promised to “get Brexit done”, we expect, and look forward to, hearing you speak regularly in the House of Commons, advocating for ALL your constituents and the whole of the Calder Valley.
Calder Valley Constituent
Founder Northern Resist