MAYOR of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham has written to the Transport Secretary today (Thursday 6 July) to brand as "wholly inadequate" the consultation on plans to close ticket offices across the city-region, and called for an immediate suspension to operator Northern's process - or he will consider legal action.
In the letter to Mark Harper, the Mayor says that passengers and staff have been "taken aback by the scale of the proposed changes", and that it feels they are being "railroaded through" without proper consultation on the impact they would have on passengers, particularly disabled people and older people.
He argues that the proposals set out by train operating companies would "further damage the confidence of passengers in our railways at precisely the time when we are all seeking to attract more people to use public transport and rebuild vital revenue."
The Mayor is calling on Northern Trains Limited to suspend their public consultation with immediate effect until they publish an Equalities Impact Assessment (EQIA) to help inform consultation responses, arguing that current plans cannot adequately be assessed without one, and that 21 days is a "clearly insufficient" amount of time for people to judge such a far-reaching set of proposals.
He has said that if the operator is not prepared to agree to his request, he will have no option but to consider what legal action may be possible.
Read the full text of the letter below:
Rt Hon Mark Harper MP
06 July 2023
Dear Secretary of State
CONSULTATION ON PROPOSED STATION TICKET OFFICE CLOSURES AND REDUCTIONS IN STATION STAFFING
I am writing in my capacity as Mayor of Greater Manchester to set out my serious concerns following yesterday’s announcement of this consultation by train operating companies.
In Greater Manchester alone, 58 stations face the closure of their ticket office, often coupled with dramatic reductions in the times staff will be on hand to assist passengers.
Passengers and staff have been taken aback by the scale of the proposed changes. To announce them without prior warning and head straight into a 21-day consultation period feels wholly inadequate to an issue of this seriousness and feels like they are being railroaded through.
Given the disproportionate levels of disruption and poor services that rail customers in the North continue to suffer, a highly visible and reassuring staff presence has never been more important. If implemented, these proposals would further damage the confidence of passengers in our railways at precisely the time when we are all seeking to attract more people to use public transport and rebuild vital revenue.
I am particularly concerned that the consultation by Northern Trains Limited is being conducted without the publication of an Equalities Impact Assessment (EQIA) to help inform consultation responses. I note that their Public Consultation Document states they are carrying out an EQIA across the stations where they are proposing to make changes and as part of that work they will speak to stakeholder groups that represent their customers. The final assessment will be made available following the completion of the consultation process.
However, in order for consultees to provide a meaningful response to the consultation, they will need to have an understanding of the potential impacts of the proposals on customers, particularly disabled people and older people, and any proposed mitigations. Whilst the consultation document provides information about how tickets can be purchased post change, the adequacy of this proposal is difficult to assess without seeing the outcome of an EQIA. Given the importance of ensuring any changes adequately consider the needs of all passengers, I am calling for Northern’s consultation process to be suspended with immediate effect until at least a provisional EQIA has been published to inform responses. Such is the seriousness of this issue, if you are unable to accede to this request, I will have no option but to consider what legal remedies are available.
I am also concerned that, given the far reaching nature of the proposals and the immense detail involved at individual station level, 21 days is clearly insufficient time for the public and statutory consultees to be meaningfully consulted. Whilst I acknowledge this is the timescale required by the legal framework, given the far-reaching impact of this, I do not believe this is fit for purpose and am calling for a more reasonable consultation period to be put in place across the industry.
Everyone can agree that reform of the rail industry cannot come soon enough to deliver what the people and businesses of this country need. However, ticket office closures and reductions in the availability of station staff are not the way to do it when basic measures around safety and security, accessibility and simplified fares and ticketing are simply not in place.
Yesterday’s proposals are premature and take no account of regional differences. They undermine customer confidence. I ask that they are urgently reconsidered.
Mayor of Greater Manchester
Article Published: 06/07/2023 17:15 PM