England

Southern: Claire Perry 'often ashamed' to be rail minister

Claire Perry
Image caption Claire Perry responded to complaints about Southern from a series of MPs

A Commons debate about Govia Thameslink (GTR) has heard an MP admit she is "often ashamed" to be Rail Minister.

Claire Perry rejected calls from some MPs to strip GTR of its franchise, following cancellations, delays and strike disruption on Southern.

Ms Perry said she did not have the "levers" to take it back as "the company is not actually in breach of any contractual agreements".

The Westminster debate was secured by Tim Loughton MP.

The Tory MP for East Worthing and Shoreham told Ms Perry to "get a grip".

He warned passengers were losing jobs, families were unable to see their children and students were missing school lessons, due to the "woeful incompetence" of GTR.

Southern issued a reduced timetable on Monday, cutting 341 of 2,242 trains each weekday following staff shortages. It claimed the services had become more "resilient".

Image copyright Jeff Collins
Image caption Departure boards at London Bridge showed Southern delays

Ms Perry told MPs: "I have been to London Bridge many times and I am often ashamed to be the Rail Minister."

"If I thought it would help by falling on my sword, I would. This feels like a failure.

"Could I force the end of the franchise early? Would the staffing problems stop? No. It would do almost nothing."

Southern owner GTR has blamed issues with crew availability and high levels of staff sickness for delays and cancellations.

The rail operator has been hit by a series of walkouts by the RMT union in a dispute over guards' roles.

The union has denied claims that the sickness amounted to unofficial industrial action.

GTR wants to use more trains where the driver operates the doors using CCTV, but the RMT, which fears job losses, claims two staff members are safer than one.

The union has offered to halt action if Southern agrees to suspend changes.

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