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Leigh On Sea News: Westminster Report - By The Rt Hon Mark Francois Member of Parliament for Rayleigh and Wickford

Layout 1Leigh On Sea News: Westminster Report – By The Rt Hon Mark Francois Member of Parliament for Rayleigh and Wickford

Westminster Report - By The Rt Hon Mark Francois Member of Parliament for Rayleigh and Wickford

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By The Rt Hon Mark Francois Member of Parliament for Rayleigh and Wickford

“VICTORY in keeping our railway ticket offices open.”

Over the course of last year, I actively campaigned against the rail industry’s ‘misguided’ proposals to close local railway ticket offices, which would have included Hockley, Rayleigh and Wickford respectively.

I know that from my email inbox as a constituency MP, many local residents had strong opposition to these plans. This was not least shown by the fact that the Rayleigh and Wickford constituency generated the second-highest number of signatories on the public petition against the proposals.

In light of this, as part of a sustained effort to prevent these proposals becoming a reality,

I wrote to the Rail Minister, Huw Merriman MP, talked to him personally and also spoke out publicly in a debate at Westminster, on the subject.

I was therefore delighted that after a sustained campaign the Transport Secretary, Mark Harper MP, turned down the industry’s proposals late last year, stating that: “The proposals that have resulted from this process do not meet the high thresholds set by ministers, and so the government has asked train operators to withdraw their proposals.”

As I have set out before, my strong opposition to the proposals centred around three key reasons.

Firstly, these proposals were clearly designed as a cost-saving exercise and I did not believe that they would result in an improved service for passengers. I accept that the railway network is suffering from a number of financial challenges, not least in the aftermath of Covid, but I did not believe that cutting ticket office staff in the way proposed, was the best way to address these issues.

Secondly, most stations would have been reduced to one member of staff, operating on the platform, to provide advice and assistance to customers. Each of my three stations get extremely busy during the morning and evening peak and I could foresee a situation in which one member of staff rapidly becomes overwhelmed by the number of enquiries they are being asked to deal with.

In addition, there have been issues with the reliability of ticket machines at Essex stations for some time. For my own part, I have also witnessed issues with the ticket machine on the platform at Rayleigh station, in recent months, when trying to use it myself.

Thirdly, I was also very concerned about the challenges that these proposals would create for passengers with additional needs, especially those who are visually impaired or have mobility issues. At present, those people would go to a ticket office to seek assistance but, under the proposed arrangements, that would have been much more difficult, particularly in the scenario which I have described above.

Encapsulating my arguments, I said to the Railway Minister, Huw Merriman MP at the conclusion of a debate in Westminster Hall (the House of Commons second debating Chamber), the following – Volume 737, Column 332WH, Wednesday 13th September 2023 (Hansard): “In all seriousness, I offer him and the Government some genuine advice: look around.

“The proposals are completely unloved. They are not popular even among Conservative Back Benchers—quite, quite the opposite. I urge the Minister to accept that a mistake has been made. It may not have been his mistake, but I say to him: take the hint, drop it, get rid of it and retreat gracefully.

“Do not press forward with this. The House of Commons does not want it and nor do our constituents.”

Subsequently, I have received a very warm letter from the Transport Minister since the decision was taken by the Government to withdraw the proposals. In the concluding part of the letter, the Minister says the following: “I recognise that this was the outcome you had lobbied me, and spoken, for.

“Please therefore accept this letter to recognise the cause you championed and to thank you for the manner in which you engaged and for your positive comments about me notwithstanding your views on the proposals.”

In summary, I am delighted that common sense has now prevailed. As someone who campaigned very actively against these proposals, I am pleased that the Government has listened to the strong criticism of the ideas and responded accordingly.

These plans proved highly unpopular in my constituency not least among my travelling constituents, who felt very strongly about this issue; so I am delighted that our popular ticket offices have now been saved!

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