It’s good to know that the long running dispute between Northern Rail and the RMT Union has come to an end amicably. No Trade Union enters into industrial action lightly; it is usually action of last resort and contrary to popular mythology the workers actually don’t get paid when striking. The fight, which did unfortunately cause frustration and inconvenience to passengers especially on weekends and over Christmas, was all about passenger safety and keeping guards on trains. The union had a point to make about the role of its members and public safety. There are plenty of situations in which interventions by guards have made a difference and driver only trains cannot replicate that. Well done to both sides for reaching a solution and restoring normal service.
On the transport front, my ears have been ringing all week about access around the town by road while I’ve been here in London. There were warnings at the beginning of last week with the start of works on the main A689 dual carriageway, which coincided with a number of schemes around the place, but this week I’ve heard about more disruption. Often it’s multiple agencies to blame for different works taking place simultaneously like the Council, the Gas Board and the Water Board but I reserve judgement and will check it out for myself when I get back at the weekend.
One thing I have done in the House is bring attention to the pitiful bus provision to areas of the Town and especially our outlining villages like Elwick. Buses are an essential part of our public transport system, connecting local communities and individuals. They are crucial to the survival of local areas and to the local economy; taking people to and from work, to their GP appointments, their banks and the shops. Without them people can be left literally isolated and feeling cut off. Deregulation clearly isn’t working and Labour, in recognising the value of bus services, will back them with greater funding as well as providing powers for local authorities to franchise and own their own buses so public funding is spent effectively on better bus services rather than filling the pockets of shareholders.
Some things are plainly just downright wrong like the situation with the buses, like the threat to free TV licenses for the over 75’s and like the increase in prescription charges introduced last week. Yes the cost of a prescription in England is set to rise to £9 the Government has announced. That might only be a 20p increase from the current price of £8.80 but overall prices have increased by 26% since 2010 compared to a rise in average earnings over the same period of 16%. Obviously this is going to hit the pocket of ordinary people yet again and as the Parkinson’s Society observe: ‘Working age people with long term conditions simply can’t sustain this’. Like people up and down the country, Hartlepool folk don’t mind paying their way as long as it’s fair and equitable but as we all know the mark up on pharmaceuticals is phenomenal with drug companies demanding eye watering prices for certain drugs. Let’s hope that basic things like the cost of access to medicines will be much improved after Brexit.