UK Transport Secretary Says Will Not Negotiate With Rail Union Boss

The UK transport secretary has said he will not negotiate with a rail union chief when the pair meet ahead of a fresh round of strikes set to cripple services over the coming months.

Mark Harper said it was up to the unions and employers to address their long-running dispute over pay, jobs and conditions, as he urged both parties to "hammer out" reforms to deliver a better service.

But Mick Lynch, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime & Transport union , who is set to meet Harper on Thursday, said the Cabinet minister has a "direct say" over what the companies in question can offer his members.

He accused the government of blocking a deal over the weekend, claiming the "most senior" people in his industry told him they were forbidden from making an offer.

"The only people above these chief executives, the chief executives of the train operating companies, is Mark Harper," he told ITV's Peston.

"Now he may not personally (have) done it, but he's got very senior officials in the DfT who will be at this meeting tomorrow.

"I'll be questioning him about that and what his role is, if he says 'those days are gone, and I'm going to be a facilitator, a person of good will, good offices or whatever you want to call it', great. Let's get on with it."

Harper insisted he has "no interest" in blocking an offer, telling Peston he wants to "help facilitate the unions and employers getting round the table to hammer out agreement on reform".

"It's reform that generates the savings that can then be used to help fund pay rises for employees," he said.

Lynch said the transport secretary is "very welcome to come round the table".