March has been a tough month for me. My youngest son (who turned 1 this month) seems to be being plagued by every nursery bug going… which means the whole family has been sick constantly, and that I can count the number of decent nights' sleep I have had on one hand. Trying to juggle two children under 3, my “day-job” and my council responsibilities has therefore felt particularly challenging this month.
As I write this blog though, things seems to have settled down (fingers crossed) and looking back over the month, it still has been pretty productive from a council perspective.
Getting Southeastern back on track
The big-ticket item for me this month was Southeastern Trains coming back to Greenwich’s Transport Scrutiny Panel (which I chair). Following the chaotic implementation of their December timetable, I wrote to the Managing Director Steve White in January to ask him to attend another panel. You can see that letter here:
This month he took me up on my offer (I have no powers to compel third parties to attend Scrutiny Panels) and joined us at Woolwich Town Hall along with Scott Brightwell (Operations and Safety Director) and other members of his stakeholder relations and communications teams. You can watch the meeting here or see my final remarks in the embedded video below.
What struck me the most, having also attended the Southeastern Stakeholder Summit earlier in the month, was the very difficult position Southeastern is in. Don’t get me wrong – I am still furious about their lack of consultation with regards to the December timetable “changes” (cuts) and the way that the Conservative Government allowed Southeastern to leverage an exception to consultation that was designed specifically for the unique position public transport providers were in mid-pandemic (not for the position of life “returning to normal”). But ultimately, Southeastern and its bosses are in a very difficult position:
1) They are the “provider of last resort”, which means they are effectively nationalised.
2) They have none of the benefits of nationalisation.
Rather, it seems they have to go cap in hand to the Conservative Government whenever they want to increase their services (this wasn’t explicitly called out, but was certainly the insinuation made regarding the reinstatement of one hourly direct off-peak service to Charing Cross on the Bexleyheath line).
Their December timetable cuts have saved the Government £10m (over a total annual loss of c.£365m). Ultimately – the Government was willing to reduce its bill by just 2-3% at our expense. Southeastern train services in Conservative areas have had an increase (e.g., Maidstone East – a station which sits in the Conservative constituency of Maidstone and the Weald – was given a new hourly service to Charing Cross, which also benefitted commuters from the Conservative Constituency of Sevenoaks). Those of us living on the Bexleyheath Line, the Sidcup Line and the Greenwich/Woolwich Line are the ones still picking up that bill.
In a truly nationalised system, investment in the railways would be for the public good that would bring. And a good, reliable, safe metro service - with trains that are not over 30 years old and that have toilets – running on tracks that haven’t suffered from historic underinvestment – with enough seats for everyone to be comfortable – run by staff whose pay and terms and conditions are such that they do not feel that they have to take industrial action - would all have huge benefits to passengers and to Southeast London more generally. And would, in time, have a “virtuous circle” effect – the better our public transport is, the more people would use public transport. The situation that Southeastern is in, couldn’t be further from that picture – and it is those of us who are living in Southeast London who are suffering as a result.
I’m determined to continue to hold Southeastern to account – whilst also trying to work with them to improve services for us all. In particular, I will be taking Scott Brightwell up on his offer to “help make the case” for the reintroduction of the Sidcup Loop. At the meeting Scott and team noted that re-instatement of the loop train service from the Sidcup Line to Abbey Wood, Woolwich and Charlton, would simply cost too much money at £5m per year. I made the point that they hadn’t fully factored in demand for the Elizabeth line and the impact that advertising that direct link would have. I have already written to Southeastern re-emphasising that I wanted to work with them, so watch this space. You can see the letter here:
The streets of London are not paved with gold
One of the surprising things I discovered as Chair of the Regeneration, Transport and Scrutiny Panel is the way in which London Boroughs are excluded from sustained Government funding for highway maintenance, unlike virtually the rest of England. The Government has committed over £2.7 billion of local highways maintenance funding between tax years 2022 and 2025, but not a penny of that is to go to any London Borough. If Greenwich were not in London, we could expect to receive up to £4million of central government funding over that period (which would almost double our Highways budget).
This puts London Boroughs in a really difficult financial position, and therefore I brought a motion to Full Council this month that the Council should write to the UK Government and request that London is treated in the same way as the rest of England with regards to Highway Maintenance. Unfortunately, given my one year old was sick, I couldn’t attend the meeting myself. However, Cllr Saldin proposed the motion on my behalf and I was pleased that it received cross-party support and was passed unanimously.
Out and about in Eltham Town and Avery Hill
As well as my usual casework load, this month I also:
Made two visits to Eltham Church Graveyard and have engaged in discussions with the Parks team to continue the work that they have started, and make the space a safe and pleasant place for people to visit and pay their respects;
Held a meeting with the Traffic Team about trying to improve safety on Bexley Road, particularly for those families arriving and leaving the local nursery;
Met the new manager and secretary of C.A.N.E (although technically not quite in the ward!) and saw their new defibrillator (which has already been put to use);
Volunteered at the Roots4Life Community Fridge, where those in need can pick up fresh fruit and vegetables – no questions asked (every Wednesday from 3-5pm);
Represented a resident at a Planning Committee; and
Received a grilling from the St Mary’s Catholic School Council (children ask the hardest and most unvarnished questions!) Plus, on a personal note, I celebrated my son's first birthday, and took my Mum to see Abba Voyage!