I hope that all readers have had a very happy Christmas, and send my best wishes for the New Year.
Whilst Christmas is of course a time to enjoy each other’s company, and create memories to enjoy, for many of us it is also a time to remember those who are no longer with us.
I cannot write this week’s column without mention of my colleague and friend Kieran Quinn, Leader of Tameside Council, who so sadly passed away on Christmas Day. My thoughts have been with Kieran’s family and friends at such a sudden and tragic loss.
I have known Kieran for over 20 years and have always had great respect for his commitment to helping those who need it most and his effectiveness. Kieran did not shirk from the difficult decisions he had to make as Council Leader but always sought as much information as he could, and to listen to all sides so he could make the best decisions possible – often in very difficult circumstances.
I will remember Kieran for his good humour and kindness, his quiet determination and modesty. I had been speaking to him about the decision on Shire Hill Hospital in the weeks before Christmas, and I know he was committed to getting a good outcome for Glossop. I, and those who are involved in the decision, will continue to work for this over the next few weeks.
Over the holidays, I received several complaints about trains from Glossop. Now that most of us are back at work, I hope the problems have been resolved. I share the concerns of many passengers at cancellations, lack of information for passengers, and difficulty obtaining ticket refunds.
Rail travellers are understandably angry, especially as rail fares have just risen yet again. An off-peak day return from Glossop to Manchester increased this week by almost 7% from £5.90 to £6.30. 18 months ago, when Arriva took over the new franchise, the same fare was just £4.40 – an increase of 43% in that time, but without improvements to services yet – or to customer service.
When I asked Northern Rail about the previous fare hike, they simply told me it was “because they could,” and that people couldn’t be objecting that much because passenger numbers continued to increase! This logic of market forces ignores the fact that our roads are so congested that the train is the only option for many people who have to get to work by a certain time.
With traffic already so bad, it is important that as many people as possible can take the train, but it is becoming too expensive as well as unreliable.
Our privatised railways are delivering a worse service for a higher cost, so in Britain we pay the highest fares in Europe, for the longest commuting times and some of the worst services as it doesn’t deliver the long-term investment our railways need.
I will continue to advocate for re-nationalisation of our railways, as a more efficient system. Up until 2015 we saw the East Coast mainline run by the public sector with the fewest complaints, lowest subsidy level and returning profits to the government. But after the franchise was handed over to Stagecoach and Virgin, they reneged on the deal and have now been bailed out by the taxpayer for hundreds of millions of pounds.
In the meantime, I will be meeting with Northern Rail to take up passengers’ complaints, so do let me know of your concerns at firstname.lastname@example.org
There will of course be many other issues I am taking up in the New Year – many of my views and campaigns are on my website, as well as a list of my surgery dates at www.ruthforhighpeak.co.uk or give my office a call on 01298 78293.