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PERRY CALLS FOR MEETING OVER RAIL DISPUTE

23 November 2016

Albion's executive director has written a letter to Chris Grayling.


Alongside Paul Barber's letter to Southern Rail, published yesterday evening, Brighton & Hove Albion director Martin Perry has written to the Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling MP. Below is a copy of the letter. The club has also invited the Secretary of State, Southern Rail and the RMT for talks at the stadium in a bid to help resolve the dispute, because we are determined and will not rest until the train service is restored to full operation and our supporters can rely on it to get them to and from the Amex.

23rd November 2016

The Rt Hon Chris Grayling
Secretary of State for Transport
Department of Transport
Great Minster House
33 Horseferry Road
London SW1P 4DR

Dear Secretary of State,

SOUTHERN TRAIN SERVICES – BRIGHTON & HOVE ALBION v ASTON VILLA – FRIDAY 18TH NOVEMBER 2016

Following the failure by your train operating company - Southern Trains - to provide adequate services for our match against Aston Villa last Friday 18th November, and the dangerous situation that occurred as a result, I feel compelled to write to you to seek your urgent intervention in the dispute between your train operating company and the RMT.

In short, when planning permission was granted for the American Express Community Stadium (The Amex) by the secretary of state for communities and local government in 2007, it was for two reasons – firstly, the social and economic benefits that the development would bring to the city of Brighton & Hove and the sub-region, but also because we were able to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the planning inspector that supporters attending matches and major events at the stadium would use sustainable modes of transport and substantially reduce reliance on the private car.

On the first of these targets, we continue to substantially exceed the original projections with the latest figures showing we contribute over £38 million gross value added (GVA) to the local economy and we have created in excess of 1,000 FTE jobs. Over 36,000 participants benefited last year from the programmes run by our charity Albion in the Community, targeted at beneficiaries who are disabled or come from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Similarly for the first five seasons since we opened the stadium in 2011, our transport strategy was very successful. Over 80% of supporters travelled to the stadium by sustainable means – using the train, bus, supporters’ coach, cycling or walking to matches or events at the stadium. This is the reverse of all other EFL clubs, where the average modes of transport total 20% by sustainable means and the remaining 80% get to their stadium using the private car.

This is by far the largest numbers using public transport travel by train. Last Friday, 10,431 people, which equates to 34.5% of the attendance at the match, attempted to travel to the stadium by train travelling from the north or west via Brighton, or from the east via Lewes.

Given the resounding success of the stadium and the transport strategy, this season, the ongoing problems with the supply of trains, which, from the numbers above are clearly critical to our transport strategy, is unforgivable. 

Our supporters and those of visiting clubs have suffered for many months, culminating in Friday’s shocking events. Although until now we have not taken sides in the dispute by the RMT with Southern Trains or commented on the failure by your department to intervene in this dispute, we have stated publicly that the cost to us in additional costs and lost revenue runs to hundreds of thousands of pounds. And that is the effect on just one business in the area served by your train operator.  The cumulative effect on businesses in the south caused by loss of business, the failure of staff to be able to get work and the damage to the local economy will be enormous.

But far worse, it has now got to a point where you are putting members of the public at risk of injury or even worse putting their lives at risk.

The events leading up to the chaos on Friday are as follows:

• On 3rd November Southern confirmed in writing they would be providing a full service for our match against Aston Villa on Friday 18th November kick-off 7.45 pm.

• We advised supporters and sold over 30,200 tickets including 3,200 to Aston Villa fans.

• During the morning of Friday we checked with Southern, who confirmed they would be providing a full matchday service.

• At 7.30pm, 15 minutes before kick-off, we were told that three services had been cancelled and there were still 800 supporters at Brighton Station. By using station managers as conductors, they managed to run one of these trains but the last supporters did not leave Brighton until 7.53pm arriving at the Amex at 8.05pm, 20 minutes after kick-off.

• During the match we enquired about services to get supporters home and at 8.47pm, we were told two of the services after the match were cancelled.

• At 9.32pm, five minutes before the end of the match, without any prior warning from Southern, the National Rail website showed that four of the services were cancelled.

• Some of our supporters had left before the end of the match knowing that the train services were chaotic, only to watch one of the services fail to stop at Falmer Station adjacent to the Amex, because it did not have a conductor.

• At 9.55pm, the station manager at Falmer advised us that the supporters travelling eastbound would have to wait an hour for the next train. By now there were long queues at the station waiting for trains.

• At 10.50pm, the National Rail website informed us that three further westbound trains were cancelled with long queues still at the station.

• It was not until 11.30pm, two hours after the match ended, that both east and westbound platforms were clear of supporters.

This catastrophic catalogue of failures caused great stress for many thousands of our fans and those of Aston Villa. More importantly, it endangered their safety many of whom attended the match with children, elderly or infirm relatives and friends. We have reports of supporters who were forced to walk home some of them walking along the A27, which is a main dual carriageway with no footpath. Some Aston Villa supporters who were very delayed in getting to Brighton missed their connections – some of which had been cancelled – slept rough in Brighton Station car park, and we have also had reports children crying with tiredness and cold. If it wasn’t for the swift action of our staff, the patient reaction of both Brighton and Aston Villa supporters, and the co-operation of the local bus company, the outcome could have been even worse.

Given these appalling events on Friday I and my board are astounded at the total lack of interest that you, your rail minister and your government are paying to this long running dispute. 

We are aware that the form of contract you have entered into with Southern is a management contract. In effect you have employed a private subcontractor to run your trains for you. We have heard calls for the rail service to be re-nationalised but in this case it is being run by your government. You have not sold this train operating service to the private sector, you are simply employing a private company to operate it for you. You pay Southern a huge fee to run the service, they collect all of the revenue and pass it back to you. Southern have no ownership, they take no risk. If the service they provide is poor and customers resort to other modes of transport all that happens is the government or the tax payer loses revenue. Southern are not accountable – you are.

You cannot therefore abdicate your responsibility to ensure that your subcontractor provides a decent and professional service for your rail passengers. It is your responsibility as the client to ensure that your subcontractor is performing to the standards that are no doubt set out in the management contract. Even worse, if somebody is injured as a result of your failure to ensure that your subcontractor provides a proper service, you could be culpable. 

And yet you appear to take no action or interest. You are prepared to let Southern and the RMT slug it out, in 1970s style industrial relations, allowing them to take all the blame when in practice it is you and your government who are accountable for the impact it has on rail passengers.

The tens of thousands of rail passengers and our supporters deserve answers to the following questions:

• Do you accept that under the management contract you are responsible for the performance of Southern?

• What action are you going to take to resolve this long-running dispute and end the suffering that has been caused to passengers and businesses all over the south east?

• What actions are you going to take to restore the confidence of your rail passengers who no longer trust this service and are now resorting to other means to get to work or their destinations?

• Do you accept that if you wish to encourage the travelling public to reduce their reliance on the private car you have to provide decent reliable public transport, otherwise these strategies will fail?

I regret having to write to you in these terms, but your rail passengers have suffered enough.  They are at risk as a result of this dispute and your urgent intervention is required. We are writing to Southern and the RMT along with yourselves, and invite you all to a meeting which we will facilitate at the Amex, to see if we can help find ways in which you can move forward to end this dispute, end the suffering of rail passengers and stop the damage to the economy in the south.

If Southern and the RMT wish to take up our offer, we will be in touch with your office to arrange a date for the meeting.

This dispute has to be brought to an end. Rail passengers, including our supporters, have suffered enough and it is time to bring to a stop the huge costs and damage to the local economy that this dispute has caused. We need a service that we can trust.

In the meantime we await your response.

Martin Perry
Executive Director
Brighton & Hove Albion Football Club

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