As I set out to the House last week, these industry-led reforms are about modernising the passenger experience. When proposing major changes to ticket office opening hours, including closures, operators are required to take into account the adequacy of the proposed alternatives in relation to the needs of all passengers, and to include that in the notice of the proposal sent to other operators and passenger groups.
Mr Speaker, you yourself said that this news has been most unwelcome for the elderly, disabled and blind. Was an impact equality assessment carried out? I am lucky that Sadiq Khan is keeping all my Transport for London stations open, but rail workers risked their lives for us all. They were not watching box sets of Bridgerton during covid. Can the Minister commit to saying there will be no redundancies?
Mr Speaker, I will come back to you with regards to Chorley station. I repeat: the aim of the train operators is to redeploy staff to where they can interact with all passengers, rather than just the one in 10 who purchase tickets from ticket offices. Some 99% of all transactions can now be completed online or at ticket machines. I will just repeat the point that the Labour Mayor of London seems to think that getting more staff out and helping more passengers is a good way to operate, because that is exactly how London Underground continues to operate, as well as other operators across the country, including the Tyne and Wear Metro.
I have a lot of respect for the Minister, who I believe wants to do the right thing, but the rosy picture he portrays is not borne out by the reality. In my constituency, at Burnage station, the ticket office opening from 6.30 am to 1 pm is being replaced by a person from midday to 2 pm, at East Didsbury, where the ticket office has the same six-and-a-half hour opening, it is being replaced by a person for two hours from 9.30 am, and at Mauldeth Road, the ticket office that opens from 7 am to 1.50 pm is replaced by a person from 9.30 am to 11 am. All three stations have massively reduced hours—by over two thirds—and, importantly, will no longer be covered by a member of staff at rush hour. How can the proposals result in anything other than a much worse service for my constituents and other passengers? Will he ask Northern to rethink?
The train operators’ proposals, as I have stated, are to ensure that ticket office staff can be with members of the public and passengers where they best need them. It is also undoubtedly the case that some ticket offices are selling just one ticket per hour, so it may well be that train operators are looking at exactly which hours are best attainable. As I mentioned, there is one particular train operator that is currently looking to staff 18 currently unstaffed stations by spreading and redeploying staff across its network. I will be having conversations with the train operators as the proposals move along. I will certainly take forward the hon. Member’s point and I thank him for his engagement earlier this week on High Speed 2.
The Minister has managed to unite Labour MPs, his own Back Benchers, you Mr Speaker, disability groups, trade unions and consumer groups in their concern about these closures. Even former “Pointless” presenter Richard Osman has voiced his concerns. And it is little wonder, because this consultation is completely pointless. There are just 21 days for people to voice their concerns, no equality impact assessments, and no answers on job security, accessibility or digital ticketing. Will the Minister think again, acknowledge the consultation is a sham, pause it and go back to the drawing board?
The consultation is under the ticketing and settlement agreement, which I believe was put in place under the last Labour Government, so I very much believe it is a good and robust process. It allows for a period of time for members of the public and hon. Members in this place to give their views on individual stations. There is then a 35-day period for passenger groups to take them into account, work with the train operators to try to reach an agreement, and ensure that all current accessibility and opportunity requirements are taken into account and maintained. I fundamentally believe that rather than the railway being stuck in the past, it needs to adapt and change in the manner that its passengers are. If one in 10 passengers are operating the booking office purchase system, that means that 90% of passengers are not seeing a member of staff. That member of staff can look after them, give them information, make them feel more reassured and assist them on to the train. That is a modern railway in action.