Amber Rudd MP: House to Home - December 2010

IT’S impossible to avoid. Last week, no conversation began without reference to it. Big, white, cold, wet...yes, the snow. And now after heavy rains, it has apparently largely melted away.

But it wasn’t just the physical side of the snow outside our doors, it was sadly the massive disruption to our lives caused by the lack of preparation by some organisations. Now, this snow was unusual – both in terms of it being a November arrival, and the sheer quantity of it. Not merely a ‘weather event’ or, as one journalist called it, “a spot of snow”, but a heavy downfall of sustained snow followed by freezing conditions over a period of days.

I came back from Brussels after a challenging visit at the EU seeing among others, the Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki. She is very positive and determined about the changes to the Common Fisheries Policy that she intends to oversee ahead of 2013. She understands the absurdity of the current system, how it disadvantages our small fishermen and leads to a shameful waste of fresh fish through the use of fish discards. She is our ally and will be pushing through these changes. I am still intent on change before that, within the current Common Fisheries Policy, but it was encouraging to know that we have a determined and focused champion for sustainable fisheries in Hastings and Rye in the form of the current commissioner.

Returning from Brussels was quite a challenge. Most of the trains were cancelled and with only two running that day (at least when we finally left at 4am) it felt like getting on the last helicopter out of Hanoi as British residents queued a little less elegantly than usual perhaps, for a coveted seat on the trains home. But coming through northern France and up through Kent that evening I could see just how much snow had settled. Our high-speed train went at a fraction of its normal pace. But we were constantly updated of the expected arrival time and kept in touch with the possible and actual changes.

That was not the case with the route at home. The lines from Hastings to London were a confusion of rumour and counter rumour. I received dozens of indignant and upset letters and emails last week regarding Southeastern Trains. We are a generally tolerant nation, and there was an awareness of the magnitude of this snowfall. But what really irritated the good residents of Hastings and Rye, was not the actual conditions, but the lack of communication from Southeastern Trains. They must do better. We cannot control the weather. But we can expect a better service from the operators or they should not hold onto their franchise.

Interested residents should sign up to join the local rail action group to be part of the fight back which will be coming soon. Given the level of public disquiet about how badly the situation was handled, I have written a number of letters to the Secretary of State for Transport and had a meeting with Charles Horton, chief executive of Southeastern Trains. This meeting allowed me to articulate the first-hand accounts of passengers who had experienced such difficulty just getting home to their families.

Mr Horton has accepted that there were serious failings in the way Southeastern Trains handled the situation and that communication between the company and passengers was poor. It is my hope and belief that lessons have been learned and that these failings will not happen again, although regretfully I cannot give similar assurances about what the weather will do over the festive period.