Rail ticket office closures 'going ahead'

 

The Government was accused today of pressing ahead with plans to
close hundreds of railway station ticket offices even though ministers
insist no final decision has been made.

Internal emails between Department for Transport staff, leaked to the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA), revealed that closures are going ahead, said the union.

Shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle raised the emails in the Commons today, saying: "I have here a leaked email dated just two weeks ago from the civil servant responsible for the rail fares and ticketing review. It says: 'The minister has already decided to approve some ticket office closures, it's just not been announced yet. There will be more of those in the future'.

"What's worse, she then admits that ministers plan to pin the blame for these closures on the train companies, saying: 'Your way of slipping in there that the initiative comes from the TOCs (train operating companies) not us is very neat'."

She asked Rail Minister Theresa Villiers: "Will you now own up and admit that you've already given the green light to these closures which passengers won't find very neat but very inconvenient and very expensive?"

Ms Villiers insisted no decisions had been taken.

"You are talking about the proposal from London Midland. That proposal is being considered but no final decision is made on those proposals."

TSSA leader Manuel Cortes said: "This is proof-positive that ministers have already decided to close 675 ticket offices while passing the public blame on to the private companies.

"They know they would never get this decision through the Commons so they are planing to bypass Parliament and do secret deals with the companies as they agree new franchises.

"They haven't even got the courage of their own convictions. These emails reveal a blatant attempt to hoodwink passengers over where the real blame lays when their ticket offices close. And the duplicity of the civil servants shows that Sir Humphrey Appleby is alive and well and living in the DfT."

The closures are recommended in the DfT-ordered report compiled by Sir Roy McNulty, which contains a number of options for cash cutting across the UK rail network.

The Government is expected to announce its decisions later this year.

The emails include a draft press statement sent to an official on April 5, which reads: "The government has no plans to close ticket offices, but as ticket buying habits change, we expect train operators to consider how best to deploy their station staff to provide the most benefit to passengers.

"This will reduce the cost of running the railways for both fare payers and taxpayers and help to end the era of inflation busting fare rises.

"We recognise that passengers can feel very strongly about ticket office opening hours, and before we could agree to any changes put forward by operators we would need to be confident that passengers would continue to enjoy ready access to ticket-buying opportunities."

The official replied: "We can't say the Government has no plans to close ticket offices because we have an application from London Midland where the minister has already decided to approve some ticket office closures (it's just not been announced yet while we're concluding £ negotiations with LM) and there will be more of those in the future.

"If you take that out the rest is ok and your way of slipping in there that the initiative comes from TOCs not us is very neat."

PA

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