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Last month, the government opened a consultation on the future of rail services in the South East region - including those in Dartford. As we all know and experience too often, the current operator Southeastern has failed passengers. We need a change and a train service that puts passengers first. That's why we believe that following the expiry of the franchise the south eastern rail service should return to public ownership. You can read the full response submitted by Dartford Labour Councillors below

Councillor Jonathon Hawkes - Leader, Dartford Labour Group

Do our priorities correctly reflect your views?

No. We believe that following the expiry of the franchise the south-eastern rail service should return to public ownership. Our preferred method of delivering this would be to allow a proposal previously tabled by the Mayor of London for Transport for London to run London commuter services into Kent.

In the event that the government does not adopt this model, we would strongly advocate that co-operative and passenger led franchise proposals are considered.

We believe the priorities of any new operators should be

  • ·         Reliability – Passengers need to see a significant reduction in late / cancelled trains
  • ·         Safety – Travelling by train should be safe at all times
  • ·         Better Customer Service – Passengers should have an improved experience of using the rail network, better communication, accessible information and right to redress when things go wrong.
  • ·         Value – Fares are currently too high. We would wish to see a gradual reduction of fares and simplification of the pricing structure
  • ·         Capacity – Reducing overcrowding needs to be a key deliverable of any new operators
  • ·         Accountability - We believe that a core principle for the next operator should be that services are run in the best interests of the passengers who use and pay for them. In support of that principle, Key Performance Indicators should specify high levels of passenger satisfaction, a reduction of complaints and demonstrable evidence is shown that the views of passengers about services are pro-actively sought, recorded and acted upon

 

Do you agree that more space is needed for passengers at the busiest times of the day?

Yes. Services are often intolerably overcrowded during rush hour and any new operator needs to address this problem. However, the answer cannot be to provide more space and simply allow that to become overcrowded in the same way. Train design and more effective use of space need to be utilised to help drive innovative solutions to this problem. For the price passengers pay, they deserve to travel in comfort.

 

What do you think of the options for providing more space on trains?

  • ·         Longer trains – We support the idea of longer trains in principle, but it is difficult to see how this would work given the current design of platforms at many stations.
  • ·         Metro style carriages – Qualified support. These types of carriages have worked successfully on the DLR; however, the average journey time is considerably shorter. Given that a consequence of metro style carriages will be more passengers standing any introduction must be tied to significant increases to reliability and faster journey times.

 

Would you support removing First Class seating on the busiest routes to provide more space? 

Yes. There is no place for first class carriages on overcrowded commuter trains. However, removing first class is a necessary, but insufficient measure to reduce overcrowding and would need to form part of a range of measure sas described elsewhere in this response.

 

Do you have any other ideas or priorities for improving customer service?

The new operator should learn from examples of good customer services from comparator organisation with a good reputation. Priorities should be

  • ·         More staff at stations. More staff with a visible presence on platforms to assist passengers.
  • ·         Better Journey Planning mechanisms – Current options for Journey planning on Southeastern are currently very poor.  Many passengers use Southeastern as a gateway to another mode of transport (tube/bus/DLR). A journey planning facility for passengers that is fully integrated with other operators and modes of transport is a necessity. Government talk about an integrated public transport system but passengers are not even given the most basic tools to plan their journey using different form of public transport.
  • ·         Invest in staff – Any new operator should invest in staff and form a positive working relationship with trade unions.  Investment in staff training and development leads to a positive working environment and would in turn, contribute to a better experience for customers and staff alike.

 

What changes to the fares structure would be of benefit to you?

 

In general, fares should be cheaper and the pricing structure simplified. We need to see the cheapest ticket options clearly advertised and available to purchase, in person at stations as well as online. The new operator should introduce season tickets for part time workers. At the moment, part-time workers who commute by train must either buy a season ticket and lose money on the days they don't use it, or buy individual peak-time tickets. Part timers are losing hundreds of pounds a year. The introduction of a flexible season ticket could help address this discrepancy.

 

We also need to see the end of the significant pricing anomalies experienced between stations that are very close to each other. In our own Borough passengers using Swanscombe station pay £502 a year more for their annual season ticket than those using Greenhithe station – even though it’s only three minutes further down the line. That equates to an additional £184 per minutes journey. This situation is unfair and it is not explained to passengers why such a price differential exists. There should be a cap on price differentials between stations within a recognised local area. (e.g. City boundaries/local government area)

 

What further comments, if any, do you have on our plans to improve access and facilities at stations

Every single station on the network should be fully accessible to those with disabilities. In our own Borough, many local stations are unusable for disabled passengers. This is unacceptable and discriminatory. It should be a condition of any new operator that they must make all stations fully accessible by 2020.

What more could be done to improve access and provide facilities for those with disabilities or additional needs?

Installation of lifts, the phasing out of steps/stairs, reduce clutter on platforms.

How far do you support, or oppose, the extension of High Speed services from London St. Pancras to Hastings, Bexhill, and Rye, where this would represent value for money to the taxpayer? 

Support

How far do you support, or oppose, reducing journey times to key destinations in Kent and East Sussex, by reducing stops at less well used intermediate stations to create hourly fast services?

Strongly oppose

Reduction in journey times should be achieved through increased investment in infrastructure and rolling stock – not through the reduction of the services available to passengers.

 

How far do you support, or oppose, options to reduce the choice of central London destinations served from individual stations with the aim of providing a more regular, evenly spaced timetable, and a more reliable service?

Strongly oppose. This proposal would be very damages to passengers in Dartford as well as the profile and economic prosperity of the town. Within the Borough of Dartford, passengers using Swanscombe, Greenhithe, Stone Crossing and Dartford stations currently travel into London Charing Cross as well as London Cannon Street. Additionally, passengers using Dartford station can travel to London Victoria. If the available destinations are restricted to just Cannon Street this is result in increased journey times and greater inconvenience for many passengers. It would also deliver greater pressure to London Bridge station which would be used as changing point for passengers wanting to travel to other destinations than Cannon Street,

How far do you support, or oppose, plans for the train operator and Network Rail to form a close alliance with the aim of reducing delays and improving performance? 

Support in principle. However, bringing together Network Rail and Train Operators cannot mean placing infrastructure back in the private sector. The degradation of safety standards under Railtrack should serve as a warning that rail infrastructure and the maintenance thereof should remain the role of the government.

How would you prefer the next South Eastern operator to engage with you? 

The new operator should regularly engage with local government in the areas it operates. Performance data should be made available to local councillors. Local Councillors can play an important part in 2-way communication between passengers and operators and we would like to see the new operator recognise Councillors as important stakeholders.  As a key service, we would also welcome initiatives for representatives of the new operator to make themselves available at local government overview and scrutiny committees.

Dartford, in common with many areas, has an active passenger action group. The new operators should regularly engage and consult with local rail passenger groups, national passenger groups such as the Campaign for Better Transport and trade unions regarding performance, passenger voice, as well as proposed changes to the service.

 

 

 

Looking to future, beyond this franchise, what, if any, benefits do you consider there would be for passengers from a franchise with a different geographical boundary?

We supported the proposal from the Mayor of London for Transport for London to take over running of suburban rail services into London. We believe this would deliver considerable benefits to commuters in London – a fully integrated service, the further extension of Oyster, greater reliability and enhanced connectivity with other TfL services. The TfL proposal committed to deliver increased capacity, frequency and reliability of rail services all-day staffing at stations, integrated fares, TfL would provide extra train services, deep cleaning and enhancements at stations, as well as more and improved ticket machines. We believe the government now needs to look again and reconsider the TfL proposal.

 

Renationalise our Rail - Dartford Labour Response to Government Consultation on the Future of Dartford Rail Services

Last month, the government opened a consultation on the future of rail services in the South East region - including those in Dartford. As we all know and experience too...

From our gridlock crisis, funding social care or supporting small business, todays' Conservative budget offered no help and no vision for Dartford.

There was, once again, no announcement about if and where a new Lower Thames Crossing will be built. Despite the signals coming from Tory ranks earlier this week that an announcement was imminent, Dartford residents are still waiting. It’s simply unacceptable that year after the government were given a clear recommendation by their own experts that a new crossing east of Gravesend should be built, the Transport Secretary is still dithering over the decision. Dartford needs the government to end the uncertainty and make that decision now.

Given the chronic traffic congestion and resulting air pollution that continues to blight our town, we hoped the Chancellor would invest in getting Dartford moving. Once again, Dartford was overlooked by the Conservative government. There was no commitment of funding to ease congestion on Dartford's roads – although the Chancellor was willing to announce £90m for the north of England and £23m for the Midlands to tackle congestion ‘pinch points’.  Maybe Transport Secretary Chris Grayling and Phillip Hammond might wish to visit Dartford to see our ‘pinch points’ for themselves. Dartford should have been included in the package of investment announced today. Coming after the extraordinary revelation that pollution levels around the Dartford Crossing have been wrongly excluded from government air quality assessments, this is another sign that Dartford's air quality crisis isn’t being taken seriously by the Conservatives.

At the 2015 election, the Conservatives promised not to raise national insurance. Today they broke that promise. The Tories national insurance increase on the self-employed will hit around 10% of Dartford’s workforce. This is a tax on growth and our local economy. For towns like Dartford, growing with entrepreneurial talent, its a Tory tax on ambition. The government should be looking at how we can encourage small businesses and start ups so that Dartford can become a ‘go to’ place for those with ambitions and ideas to start their own business. Instead, the Conservatives have delivered a tax on growth to SMEs and the self-employed in our town.

The Chancellors announcements on Social Care fell way short of what was needed. The Tories cut £4.6bn from social care budgets in the last parliament. The extra money announced today doesn’t even begin to address the funding gap and the care crisis. And there was no clarity at all about how this was going to be paid for. The chancellor’s U-turn on rising business rates masks a growing black hole in local council finances. Local government nationwide is facing a 63% real terms cut to core government funding in the period 2010-2020.. The last grant settlement provided to Dartford Council by a Labour government amounted to £7.5m. By 2019/20 that grant will have reduced to zero. If we were looking to today’s budget for clarity on how business rate retention will actually work to fund local public services, we were once again, sorely disappointed.

This was a budget that was bad for the council, delivered nothing for the country and had no answers to the challenges facing our community in Dartford.

Dartford Forgotten In A Tory Budget With No Answers

From our gridlock crisis, funding social care or supporting small business, todays' Conservative budget offered no help and no vision for Dartford.

This evening Dartford Labour Councillors voted against a Conservative budget that will see local people paying more but getting less, will see cuts to vital services like CCTV and failed to set out a vision for the future. The full text of the speech made by Dartford Labour leader Jonathon Hawkes in response to the budget is below.

·     This budget has been written following a consultation with the people of Dartford. Unfortunately, there is very little in the budget report that gives an indication of what they said.

 

·     Luckily, we do have the views of Dartford residents available to us courtesy of the Dartford Messenger who have published a poll asking the question “Do you feel you get value for money from your Dartford Council Tax bill?”

 

·     The answer is a very resounding ‘no’. 4 out of 5 people felt they are not getting value for money from their council tax.

 

·     And who can blame them for feeling that way?

 

·     This is a budget that risks breaking the contract between the Council and people of Dartford.

 

·     People can accept the need to pay more for improved services.

 

·     This is a budget that will see Dartford residents paying more and getting less.

 

·     We know – because the budget book tells us on page 19 – the priorities of the Conservative administration. Keeping Dartford safe, town centre regeneration, tackling flytipping and waste and street cleaning.

 

·     The Conservatives are falling short on every measure. Failing on their own terms.

 

·     And even worse, this budget gives no indication and no detail of how the additional council tax people are being asked to pay will be used to address these issues.

 

·     The Conservatives tell residents their priority is keeping Dartford safe. Yet, this budget proposes to cut the budget for CCTV.

 

·     With Anti social behaviour in Kent at a three year high that’s a budget that needs increasing not cutting. And only last month, Councillors were told there would be no additional resources to enforce the public spaces protection order for the town centre.

 

·     We hear the words from the Conservatives but there is no action to back them up.

 

·     It feels like Groundhog Day to be at yet another budget meeting and hear the town centre regeneration is on the agenda.

 

·     Yet this is a budget that has literally nothing to say on attracting new businesses to Dartford, no ideas on creating local employment and no initiatives to drive growth in the local economy.

 

·     Our town is growing with entrepreneurial talent – both long standing and newer residents. This council should be looking at how we can encourage small businesses and start ups. Dartford could be a ‘go to’ place for those with ambitions and ideas to start their own business.

 

·     But the Conservatives don’t even have a plan for economic growth. Worse still, there isn’t a Cabinet member with responsibility for producing one.

·     The waste collection service – once spoken of with such pride by members opposite – is in a critical condition.

 

·     Residents increasingly experience their bins not being collected on the day they should be and we see newly purchased waste collection vehicles breaking down while out on their rounds. It’s just not good enough.

 

·     The service is under severe strain but there is no detail in the budget of how these issues will be addressed.

·     The proposal to allocate an extra £71,000 for street cleaning is a sign that the Conservatives much heralded litter enforcement scheme is failing. Well – it’s succeeding in lining the pockets of Kingdom Security.

 

·     But there is no evidence that the scheme has reduced the amount of litter on our streets and that is demonstrated by the need to now put additional resources into street cleaning.  

 

 

·     The Conservatives have failed to tackle Dartford’s litter epidemic.

 

·     When residents are asked to pay more council tax but the council are still relying on voluntary litter picking groups in order to keep our streets clean you know that the Conservatives are falling down on the day job and not getting the basics right. People are paying more and getting less.

 

·     I never thought I would feel sympathy for the Conservative members opposite. And I was right – I don’t.

 

 

·     But I do think we can all feel sorry that clearly there has been no ‘sweetheart deal’ for Dartford in this budget.

 

·     But there is no doubt that they have been given a hospital pass from the government when it comes to funding.

 

 

·     The Conservative government has all but abandoned its commitment to local government funding.

 

·     The budget we are being asked to vote on tonight contains a massive cut to our Revenue Support Grant. The last grant settlement provided to this council by a Labour government amounted to £7.5m. By 2019/20 that grant will have reduced to zero.

 

 

·     No council, no business, no organisation can withstand that level of income reduction without an impact on the services it provides.

·     But if imposing a council tax increase to respond to the funding challenge and growth of our population it is safe to assume this will be the first of many rises to come.

 

·     The Conservatives have presided over a growing ‘black hole’ in our finances. The budget gap in 2018/19 is approximately £1.2m, rising to nearly £4m by 2021/22. The budget claims the Conservatives will “explore all options in managing the gap” but realistically the options are

1.) Increasing Council Tax

2.) Raiding our reserves.

3,) Cutting Services. 

·     The question residents need to know is   - what’s it to be?

 

·     The Conservatives have failed to answer that question tonight as they have failed to meet even their own priorities.

 

·     This should have been a budget that set out how the council was going to address the challenges we face as a community

 

·      Instead the Conservatives have no answers, no details on how money is going to be spent and no vision for the future.

 

·     The Conservatives are asking hard working people to pay more, but get less. That’s why it’s a bad budget for Dartford.

 

Dartford Labour Vote Against Tory Budget That Will See People Pay More But Get Less

This evening Dartford Labour Councillors voted against a Conservative budget that will see local people paying more but getting less, will see cuts to vital services like CCTV and failed...

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