Metro row: Lib Dems call for Forbes to be accountable for performance and respond properly to public concerns

Statement on Metro row

Opposition Lib Dem councillors on Newcastle City Council have called on council leader Nick Forbes, who is the lead member for transport on the North East Combined Authority, to publicly state his priorities and expectations for Nexus, DB Regio, and Network Rail to address the serious issues affecting performance of the Metro network, along with a clear delivery plan for improvements to Metro including arrangements for managing the Metro concession after 2017 and plans for long-term replacement of the Metro rolling stock after 2020.

Opposition transport spokesman Cllr Greg Stone was subjected to a vituperative attack from a clearly rattled Cllr Forbes at Wednesday's city council meeting, following a Lib Dem motion seeking to hold Cllr Forbes accountable for poor Metro performance.

He has now written to Cllr Forbes expressing concern that the council leader declined to make any expression of regret for the current situation, accusing him of ignoring the legitimate concerns of thousands of unhappy Metro passengers, and calling on him to publish a clear statement of his priorities for addressing problems and his expectations of Nexus in responding to the situation

Cllr Stone said "Cllr Forbes' behaviour at council on Wednesday was arrogant and offensive. He demeaned his office by failing to make any response to the problems facing public transport under his lead, and was dismissive of the concerns of thousands of Metro passengers. 84% of respondents to a recent survey expressed dissatisfaction with performance.Instead, he chose to engage in a personal attack on me.

I make no apology for speaking up for the travelling public: it is important that those in power are held to account for their performance. In the circumstances Cllr Forbes bears political responsibility for the situation, and I think it is appropriate that he sets out his proposed course of action to address it, together with a clear identification of his expectations for Nexus and DB Regio for the Metro network. I also feel it is important that Cllr Forbes also sets out a clear delivery plan for delivering NECA's Transport Manifesto, which even his own deputy leader has described as 'motherhood and apple pie."

"This is a key test for the credibility of the new Combined Authority. If we are to trust NECA with more power, more budget, and more responsibility, it is imperative that its politicians are publicly accountable for delivery. If NECA is unable to adequately address concerns over public transport, it does not bode well for the democratic legitimacy of the organisation. NECA is already lagging behind other regions and is under-performing on employment and apprenticeships. If elected councillors are unable to ask searching questions of those in power in a one-party system, it is very worrying for the health of local democracy in the North East Combined Authority area."

"I have challenged Cllr Forbes to substantiate his slurs that I have made personal attacks on him and officers or face the prospect of a formal standards complaint. He needs to do more to address public concerns about public transport, and he needs to do it urgently."


Copy of letter sent to Cllr Forbes 4.2.16


Dear Cllr Forbes,

It was regrettable that you chose to turn an important debate on issues that affect thousands of people across Tyne and Wear into a ranting and abusive personal attack last night. The timing was particularly unfortunate given the council had agreed the new bullying and harassment policy a few minutes earlier and I invite you to reflect on whether your actions complied with this.

Clearly you are aware of the concerns raised in the motion given your comments in the media over the weekend. In my view, it was discourteous and demeaning to your office that you chose not to respond in any meaningful way to these concerns in the council chamber.

I make no apology for raising these issues on behalf of very many unhappy passengers who are disgruntled at current performance. It is important that you, in your capacity as lead member for transport on the Combined Authority, are directly accountable for performance of the system and by extension, for the performance of senior Combined Authority officers - particularly the Combined Authority's lead officer for transport and the head of transport operations.

As you will recall, there is a relevant precedent.  When you became leader of the council, you published an open letter to the then chief executive setting out your priorities and expectations for performance, which was widely reported in the media.

I therefore call upon you to do likewise in response to the issues raised in my motion last night, setting out your priorities and your expectations of senior officers in addressing these concerns, viz.
- current under-performance of Metro
- the need to plan for delivery of the Metro  concession beyond 2017
- the need to plan for the long term replacement of the Metro rolling stock
- the CA's approach to delivering the Bus Strategy
- the CA's plans for delivering the Transport Manifesto

in order that you may be held personally accountable for the fulfilment of these expectations.

Yours sincerely

Cllr Greg Stone
Opposition spokesman on Transport

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