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Shaun Bailey AM: Tube strike brinkmanship is yet another disaster for London’s recovery

After months of lockdown, a Tube strike threatened to bring London to a complete halt today . An 11th-hour breakthrough in talks meant it was narrowly avoided, but the problem isn’t solved. With two strikes planned later this month, the prospect of transport chaos hangs over the capital’s recovery.

While we are desperately trying to get people back into London, the ongoing dispute between Transport for London (TfL) and the Rail, Maritime, and Transport (RMT) workers’ union is the last thing our city needs.

Large swathes of central London are still eerily quiet, deprived of office workers, tourists and revellers. A strike will scare them off – especially those worried about being crushed onto alternative forms of transport during a pandemic.

The last-minute cancellation of what was supposed to be the first of four 24-hour strikes called by the RMT union is welcome. However, the uncertainty will have already inflicted some damage on London – and the prospect of two days of industrial action later this month still looms large.

As Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan is responsible for keeping the city moving. It’s his job to show leadership and bang heads together to avoid strikes.

When Khan first ran to head up City Hall in 2016, he was too confident in his ability to manage industrial relations. He went as far as to promise there would be ‘zero days of strikes’ if elected.

Five years on, there have been 31 separate walkouts on his watch – nearly twice as many as Ken Livingstone presided over in eight years.

The reason for RMT’s strike action is deeply worrying. It was called after TfL proposed to modernise the London Underground by ending the separate class of Night Tube drivers. Instead, all Tube drivers can work either the day or night and fill in gaps as needed – giving the network much needed flexibility.

This is a good idea which will help us reopen the Night Tube and keep London moving. The pandemic and ‘pingdemic’ has exposed the great difficulty in redeploying drivers to other Tube lines when there is a shortage.

If there was a greater pool of drivers able to operate on different lines, we could have avoided the recent disruption to the Circle, Hammersmith and City, District and Metropolitan lines.

TfL insists no jobs will be lost but it will change the jobs of many Tube drivers, day and night. So, it needs to be handled with care. Sadly, what we’ve seen is struggling talks between the trade union and TfL, resulting in the disastrous brinkmanship we’ve seen.

Unless the Mayor finally makes good on his long-broken industrial relations promise, he won’t be able to reform TfL and balance its books. In the long-term that means TfL will struggle to keep our city moving. But, in the short-term it would be yet more bad news for Londoners who will be forced to pick up the bill if Khan fails. Again.

Since his re-election, the Mayor already U-turned on his promise that his decision to hike the Congestion Charge to £15 would only be temporary. And he’s ploughing on stubbornly with his plan to expand the £12.50 ULEZ charge in October, knowing few Londoners can afford it in the wake of a pandemic. However, while pleading poverty to the Government and charging Londoners more, he has conveniently found headroom to abandon his own pay cut from last year.

London can’t afford any more of Khan’s tax hikes. TfL can’t afford to carry on as a bloated, wasteful body. And taxpayers across the country can’t keep bailing the Mayor out forever as public debt sky rockets.

That’s why the Mayor must modernise TfL to get its finances back on track. Part of this should be looking at creative ways like Tube sponsorship to raise money, upgrading the transport network, and yes, Khan will have to get Crossrail done.

But a large part will be making TfL into an efficient and modern transport network. That means ditching its outdated, gold-plated pensions, bonuses, and staff perks – and difficult conversations with trade unions.

Article by Shaun Bailey AM first published by Mail +.


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