Tube ticket office row resolved but at what cost?

Tube strike Image copyright PA

It has been three long years in the making, but today it seems as if we have a resolution to the closure of Tube ticket offices.

On 21 November 2013, the then mayor Boris Johnson stood with the then head of London Underground (LU) Mike Brown and announced all ticket offices would be shut on the Tube network.

Both have moved on to greater things but the hangover of that announcement has lasted until today.

It was one of the most radical changes in Tube history and 953 jobs were earmarked for closure.

The bosses tried to sweeten the pill on that day by announcing the Night Tube, but it was the job losses the unions really hated.

From that day, there have been countless strikes, pickets, demonstrations, offers and counter offers over the issue of job cuts and safety.

But under the Tory mayor, Boris Johnson, the unions had given up striking as they were making very little headway.

The ticket offices shut in 2015 and the unions managed to get the number of lost staff down to 838.

So what changed? Politics.

In the mayoral election last year, the unions reinvigorated their campaign against the cuts and when Labour's Sadiq Khan took power he promised a review of the ticket office closures - carried out by London TravelWatch.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Countless strikes, pickets and demonstrations have been held in the last three years

It found staff were not visible enough (but didn't comment on specific numbers) and it did not say ticket offices should be re-opened.

However, crucially for the first time LU admitted they were short of staff.

That was the turning point and then it became a question of numbers.

The RMT and TSSA unions walked out on 9 January much to the annoyance of the new mayor whose promise of "zero strikes" evaporated.

LU offered 200 new posts then.

This week that number rose - according to LU - to 325 with at least 200 of them being full-time.

On top of that 325 will be taken on as part of annual recruitment to match those leaving their jobs on the Tube. (The unions say 300 or so jobs are lost a year through retirement etc and there are already 70 unfilled posts.)

Future job losses

So, who can claim this as a victory?

Certainly the unions are delighted. They have got more staff but it is some way short of the 838 laid off.

LU said getting rid of 838 staff would save £50m a year. That saving will be reduced and now there is inevitably the question of affordability.

Transport for London (TfL) is having to make big changes and big savings and there are job losses being made elsewhere.

Conservative London Assembly member Keith Prince says: "Sadiq Khan has caved in and bought off the RMT by spending tens of millions of pounds on unnecessary jobs."

By recruiting in one area, bigger cuts will have to be made elsewhere. This though was a political and operational priority.

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