Transport secretary to hold talks with RMT today

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch is expected to meet recently-appointed transport secretary Mark Harper today, just after the union called four more 48-hour strikes in December and January.

ASLEF is also staging a 24-hour drivers’ strike on Saturday.

Mr Lynch has repeatedly accused the government of placing a ‘dead hand’ on the talks between the union, Network Rail and the train operators which are aimed at reaching a settlement in the long-running dispute over pay and conditions..

Earlier this week he said: ‘The employers are in disarray and saying different things to different people, sometimes at the same time. This whole process has become a farce that only the new secretary of state can resolve.’

Speaking to the BBC in Scotland, the RMT’s assistant general secretary John Leach said: ‘Let’s hope that the third secretary of state down in England in less than six months has got something better to say than Grant Shapps and Anne-Marie Trevelyan before him and actually puts his shoulder behind the wheel and gets a deal moving.’

Meanwhile, the MP for Buckingham Greg Smith has told the Daily Telegraph that he is urging the transport secretary to cancel Network Rail’s engineering works over Christmas because of the disruptive effect of the latest RMT strikes.

He was quoted as saying: ‘The new rail strike dates are particularly disruptive to our economy during a delicate financial environment when traders and hospitality desperately need a good festive period.  

‘On top of militant union action, the last thing rail passengers need is the endless disruption from engineering works.’

Mr Smith also opposes HS2, and has called for the project to be abandoned because of the financial crisis. In spite of this, the Chancellor dismissed calls for HS2 to be further cut back or even cancelled in his Autumn Statement last Friday. Jeremy Hunt told the Commons that funding would be available to continue building HS2 to Manchester as well as East West Rail and the ‘core’ elements of Northern Powerhouse Rail.