Transport union TSSA has today written to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps raising "grave concerns" about the state of Eurostar and asking for the government to step in with support "to prevent a financial calamity" for Britain's green gateway to Europe.
In the letter, TSSA leader Manuel Cortes outlines the dire state of passenger volumes which are currently estimated to be just 1% of pre-covid levels. The government has provided support for domestic rail and even for international airlines, but nothing for Eurostar.
Manuel Cortes, TSSA General Secretary, said: “The situation at Eurostar is severe and government must provide support to avoid mass redundancies and serious damage to our only rail link to mainland Europe.
“Our members at Eurostar are facing financial hardship and mental health problems as a result of the ongoing uncertainty, threat of redundancy and related stress. With Christmas just around the corner it is a desperate situation.
“We’ve heard some big announcements from government on ambitious climate targets, but if they’re serious about decarbonising our economy, then Eurostar – the green gateway to Europe – must be supported through the pandemic.”
Quotes from TSSA Eurostar members:
Eurostar employee 1: “I have found this year particularly hard on my mental health. I am constantly in fear that we will be made redundant. I don’t feel I have any job security and it’s causing genuine upset and distress that I could lose my job with very little notice.”
Eurostar employee 2: “The uncertainty and vagueness that government has created has left me feeling very insecure and worried about my job, finances and how this will affect my family, and the long term. It has caused sleepless nights, stress, arguments, and just general uncertainty and insecurity in many ways that are not immediately obvious. I am extremely concerned about the effects on my pension, and the viability of the scheme. I am also worried about how this will affect my mental well-being. I am extremely anxious about the financial viability of the company, and if it is ultimately able to “ride out” the current storm to what should be a very bright future.”
TSSA’s letter in full:
10 December 2020
To: Grant Shapps MP, Secretary of State for Transport
I’m writing to raise grave concerns about Eurostar where many of our TSSA members are facing redundancy. I’m asking for support from the UK government for this strategically important, ‘green gateway’ rail link.
As you know, passenger numbers on public transport are down across all modes and in all parts of the country. However, whereas we are seeing ridership of around 30-40% on many domestic rail and bus routes, Eurostar is running just two trains a day (most of the year it has been only one train a day) and current passenger numbers are estimated to be at just 1% of pre-covid levels. The company’s revenue has dropped by 95%.
Ebbsfleet and Ashford International stations have not reopened and will probably not until 2022. Many Eurostar staff are furloughed and this – alongside the worry of redundancy – is taking a heavy toll on their finances and mental health. Without support, many jobs could be lost next year. The European Works Council is meeting today (10 December) to discuss potential redundancies.
Travel restrictions imposed by governments to prevent the spread of the virus are a direct factor in reduced passenger levels. The British government has rightly provided financial support for Train Operating Companies, and recently announced £1.8bn for airports, but there has been nothing for Eurostar.
As our only rail link to mainland Europe, Eurostar is a strategically important transport route which must be supported for Britain to meet its climate commitments. The government recently unveiled a new green plan which puts huge emphasis on its commitment to meeting ambitious climate change targets. A journey by rail uses at least 80% less emissions per route than the equivalent flight, saving 60,000 short-haul flights per year.
There are many things that government could do to provide practical support for Eurostar:
• Extend the aviation support scheme of loans, tax deferrals and financing to international rail.
• Address track/tunnel access charges by scrapping, reducing or a giving a rebate. These are significant costs to the company.
• Provide business rates relief.
I am happy to discuss this matter with you, but what we urgently need is prompt action from your Department to prevent a financial calamity at Eurostar.
I look forward to your response.
TSSA General Secretary
Response from Government - 22nd December 2020
Dear Manuel, Thank you for your letter of 10 December to Grant Shapps, about support for Eurostar. I am replying as the Minister responsible for International Rail.
The Government is acutely aware that the international rail sector, as with the rest of the international travel sector, has been? significantly? impacted? by the Covid-19 pandemic.
My officials have been engaging with Eurostar on a regular basis since March to monitor the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on demand for international travel and I have met Eurostar’s leadership team on several occasions throughout the year.
Firstly, I would like to emphasis that the Government has made available an unprecedented package of financial support for businesses across all sectors of the economy, including the international rail sector.
This includes the job retention scheme, which companies across the international transport sector have been able to make extensive use of, as well as tax deferrals and loan schemes. My officials have engaged extensively with international rail operators, including Eurostar to access these schemes where eligible and will continue to do so.
I am aware that Eurostar has had to take some difficult decisions in response to the pandemic, including the decision to cease operations at its Kent stations. I am keen to see the reinstatement of international services stopping at Kent stations once international travel recovers and it is commercially viable for the company to do so, given there is clearly a demand for these services in normal circumstances.
Department for Transport officials have also been actively participating in trilateral discussions with Eurostar and HS1?Ltd?to consider and address the longer-term challenges facing the HS1 system as a result of reduced demand for international rail services.
I also recently met with both Eurostar and HS1 to discuss these challenges. The Government will continue to engage in these discussions to identify workable, appropriate solutions to these challenges.
More recently, international rail operators including Eurostar have been engaged in the work of the Global Travel Taskforce (GTT), which was established by the Prime Minister to explore ways of supporting the safe and sustainable recovery of international travel.
The GTT has made a series of recommendations aimed at supporting the safe and sustainable restart of international travel and, as part of this, the Government has announced the introduction of a ‘Test to Release’ scheme for international arrivals from 15 December 2020.
In addition, the Department is also taking forward other recommendations in the report, including exploring the feasibility of exemptions for certain groups such as short-term business travellers and tourist groups.
I know these measures could play an important role in supporting the recovery of demand for international rail services. Once again, thank you for taking the time to write to the Government on this extremely important issue.
I want to stress that I am keenly aware of the challenges facing the international rail sector at present and the Department will continue to engage closely with Eurostar and others as we continue to manage the ongoing impacts of Covid-19.
Yours sincerely, Chris Heaton-Harris MP Minister of State for Transport