A 24-hour Tube doesn't make 750 job losses any better

It's hard not to see the prospect of all-night Tube parties as a distraction from the larger issue of budget cuts to the capital's transport network.

Rarely has a transport announcement caused such joy, but Londoners - long jealous of their New York City cousins across the pond - are finally getting a 24-hour Tube service. It's only on Fridays and Saturdays, and it's only on five lines (well, four-and-a-half, technically), but this is big news.

The night bus, those post-midnight caravels that weave their way through the streets of pre-dawn London, will no longer be one of the defining experiences of the city's nightlife.

The choice of lines to stay open is a curious one, apparently justified because of signalling and train upgrades that will make all-night operation possible by 2015. Still, it's clearly a move that is aimed at the West End - those lines all go through there, and it's the Northern line's Bank branch (which goes along the edge of Shoreditch, another nightlife centre) that misses out. More lines may begin all-night operation over the years, subject to a range of factors, Transport for London has said.

It's not all good news, though. TfL will be closing every single ticket office across the Tube network, with the loss of 750 jobs. That's a huge cut, and directly contradicts Boris Johnson's 2008 manifesto pledge to stop any ticket office closures.

The justification, according to TfL, is that there will still be at least one member of staff in every station that is open at all times. However, they're going to be given "the latest mobile technology" (read: iPads with WiFi) so they can keep an eye on things no matter where they are in the station. For some stations, this could be fine; for others, especially those in busy tourist areas - where everyone will be expected to buy their tickets from machines - it could be much worse. There will be six "information centres" kept open in the six busiest tube stations (Waterloo, Victoria, King's Cross-St Pancras, Oxford Circus, London Bridge, Liverpool Street) but that's your lot.

Night buses can be frightening places, especially for women. The thought of taking that experience underground, alone, in a large station with only one person on duty to offer help if needed, is a cause for concern. The RMT has made it clear that it considers these staffing changes a threat to passenger safety; ironically, considering Boris Johnson's determination to switch the Tube to driverless trains as a way to prevent strikes, the extra night trains will probably mean new drivers will be hired, increasing the RMT's leverage.

There are also changes to how tickets work. TfL is already phasing out cash payments for bus tickets and has introduced compatibility with contactless debit and credit cards, and a similar push is being made with the Underground. For most people this makes sense, as the changes will make it so that there's a daily and weekly cap on how much your card is charged to create de facto travelcards. While there are no plans to get rid of Oyster, it's clearly not going to be around forever. This creates problems of accessibility for that significant minority who will find it harder to pay for their journeys, either because they haven't got a bank account with which to get a contactless card, or who find using ticket machines difficult.

It's very hard not to see the announcement of a 24-hour Tube as a way of drowning out the large job losses and controversial changes to how transport in London will work. There's a big hole in TfL's budget thanks to a £225m drop in funding from central government, and two main tools to combat that are above-inflation fare rises (check) and staff cuts (check) - these plans, as announced, will save £270m for TfL in operation costs over five years.

Quite a lot of that funding gap would have been covered by not doing things like building a crap cable car or commissioning a pointless custom-built bus, but it's too late now. Oh well.

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Now listen to Ian discussing this with Helen Lewis on the NS Podcast:

 

The new 24-hour Night Tube, as it'll work from 2015. (Image: TfL)

Ian Steadman is a staff science and technology writer at the New Statesman. He is on Twitter as @iansteadman.

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Want to send a positive Brexit message to Europe? Back Arsene Wenger for England manager

Boris Johnson could make a gesture of goodwill. 

It is hard not to feel some sympathy for Sam Allardyce, who coveted the England job for so many years, before losing it after playing just a single match. Yet Allardyce has only himself to blame and the Football Association were right to move quickly to end his tenure.

There are many candidates for the job. The experience of Alan Pardew and the potential of Eddie Howe make them strong contenders. The FA's reported interest in Ralf Rangner sent most of us scurrying to Google to find out who the little known Leipzig manager is. But the standout contender is Arsenal's French boss Arsene Wenger, 

Would England fans accept a foreign manager? The experience of Sven Goran-Eriksson suggests so, especially when the results are good. Nobody complained about having a Swede in charge the night that England won 5-1 in Munich, though Sven's sides never won the glittering prizes, the Swede proving perhaps too rigidly English in his commitment to the 4-4-2 formation.

Fabio Capello's brief stint was less successful. He never seemed happy in the English game, preferring to give interviews in Italian. That perhaps contributed to his abrupt departure, falling out with his FA bosses after he seemed unable to understand why allegations of racial abuse by the England captain had to be taken seriously by the governing body.

Arsene Wenger could not be more different. Almost unknown when he arrived to "Arsene Who?" headlines two decades ago, he became as much part of North London folklore as all-time great Arsenal and Spurs bosses, Herbert Chapman or Bill Nicholson, his own Invicibles once dominating the premier league without losing a game all season. There has been more frustration since the move from Highbury to the Emirates, but Wenger's track record means he ranks among the greatest managers of the last hundred years - and he could surely do a job for England.

Arsene is a European Anglophile. While the media debate whether or not the FA Cup has lost its place in our hearts, Wenger has no doubt that its magic still matters, which may be why his Arsenal sides have kept on winning it so often. Wenger manages a multinational team but England's football traditions have certainly got under his skin. The Arsenal boss has changed his mind about emulating the continental innovation of a winter break. "I would cry if you changed that", he has said, citing his love of Boxing Day football as part of the popular tradition of English football.

Obviously, the FA must make this decision on football grounds. It is an important one to get right. Fifty years of hurt still haven't stopped us dreaming, but losing to Iceland this summer while watching Wales march to the semi-finals certainly tested any lingering optimism. Wenger was as gutted as anybody. "This is my second country. I was absolutely on my knees when we lost to Iceland. I couldn't believe it" he said.

The man to turn things around must clearly be chosen on merit. But I wonder if our new Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson - albeit more of a rugger man himself - might be tempted to quietly  suggest in the corridors of footballing power that the appointment could play an unlikely role in helping to get the mood music in place which would help to secure the best Brexit deal for Britain, and for Europe too.

Johnson does have one serious bit of unfinished business from the referendum campaign: to persuade his new boss Theresa May that the commitments made to European nationals in Britain must be honoured in full.  The government should speed up its response and put that guarantee in place. 

Nor should that commitment to 3m of our neighbours and friends be made grudgingly.

So Boris should also come out and back Arsene for the England job, as a very good symbolic way to show that we will continue to celebrate the Europeans here who contribute so much to our society.

British negotiators will be watching the twists and turns of the battle for the Elysee Palace, to see whether Alain Juppe, Nicolas Sarkozy end up as President. It is a reminder that other countries face domestic pressures over the negotiations to come too. So the political negotiations will be tough - but we should make sure our social and cultural relations with Europe remain warm.

More than half of Britons voted to leave the political structures of the European Union in June. Most voters on both sides of the referendum had little love of the Brussels institutions, or indeed any understanding of what they do.

But how can we ensure that our European neighbours and friends understand and hear that this was no rejection of them - and that so many of the ways that we engage with our fellow Europeans rom family ties to foreign holidays, the European contributions to making our society that bit better - the baguettes and cappuccinos, cultural links and sporting heroes remain as much loved as ever.

We will see that this weekend when nobody in the golf clubs will be asking who voted Remain and who voted Leave as we cheer on our European team - seven Brits playing in the twelve-strong side, alongside their Spanish, Belgian, German, Irish and Swedish team-mates.

And now another important opportunity to get that message across suddenly presents itself.

Wenger for England. What better post-Brexit commitment to a new Entente Cordiale could we possibly make?

Sunder Katwala is director of British Future and former general secretary of the Fabian Society.