Chris Grayling scrapped TfL Overground expansion because he didn't want Labour to control it, leaked letter reveals

The Transport Secretary is facing calls to resign

Jon Stone
Political Correspondent
Wednesday 07 December 2016 13:27
London Overground trains
London Overground trains

The Transport Secretary is facing calls to quit after a leaked letter revealed that he scrapped an expansion of TfL’s railway network simply to stop Labour being in charge of it.

Chris Grayling this week binned the cross-party plan to hand large parts of privatised suburban franchises like Southern and South West Trains to Transport for London.

The policy, first proposed by Boris Johnson and continued on a cross-party basis by Sadiq Khan, would have seen large parts of the capital’s ailing suburban network incorporated into the successful London Overground.

But a 2013 letter from Mr Grayling to Mr Johnson shows that the Transport Secretary’s main reason for being against devolution was wanting to “keep suburban rail services out of the clutches of any future Labour Mayor”.

The then Mayor had canvassed local MPs, including Mr Grayling – who represents Epsom – to support the policy.

“While I am generally a great supporter of what you are doing in London, I would not be in favour of changing the current arrangement – 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,” Mr Grayling wrote in the letter, which was leaked to the Evening Standard.

“Obviously, similar concerns apply over a future Labour government as well, but 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 trade services in our areas, which I would not like us to lose.

“I’m afraid we will have to agree to disagree over this one.”

The revelations prompted Conservative MP Bob Neill to call for Mr Grayling’s resignation.

“He’s acted for party reasons and not acted in the interests of London commuters,” he told the same newspaper.

“It’s pretty clear he has a dogmatic opposition to rail devolution & that’s not a legitimate basis to take a decision.”

Mr Khan yesterday said of the cancellation of the plans: “Commuters across South London and the commuter belt are understandably furious after the Government broke their promise to make commuter rail services more reliable, frequent, and affordable.

“TfL have proven that when they take control of rail lines like London Overground passengers get more frequent trains, fewer cancellations and delays, more staff at stations and more affordable fares – with all fares frozen for four years.”

Earlier this year, Mr Johnson and Patrick McLoughlin, the then transport secretary, jointly announced TfL would take control of franchises as they came up for renewal.

There was cross-party agreement on the policy, with Labour’s Mr Khan and former Tory candidate Zac Goldsmith both supporting it.

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