Doubts raised over estimated cost of tube strikes

Experts have cast doubt on claims that the latest strikes by London Underground workers will cost the capital nearly £50 million in lost productivity per day.

The first wave of 24-hour strikes began at 5pm yesterday (6 September), when maintenance workers staged a walkout, followed at 9pm by drivers, station staff and signallers belonging to the RMT and TSSA unions.

The London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) warned that the disruption would cost the capital’s businesses £48 million in lost productivity per day. The figure was based on the results of a LCCI survey, conducted the day after the last 24-hour Tube strike in September 2007, which questioned 315 business leaders about the financial impact on their companies.

Colin Stanbridge, chief executive of the LCCI, said: “This strike action could not have come at a worse time with the capital only just beginning to find its feet after a difficult economic slowdown and many returning to work after the summer break. Londoners will still struggle into work, aided by the additional transport laid on by the Mayor, but the capital will not be as productive as normal and our reputation as the world’s leading business centre will suffer.”

However, Phoebe Leet, head of HR operations at technology giant Cisco UK & Ireland, said she would be “hugely surprised” if the cost to businesses is as great as it was back in 2007.

“The developments in collaborative technology that we have seen in the past few years, combined with a growing acceptance among managers that flexible working can be highly effective in the right circumstances, should mean that employers in London are far better equipped to cope now compared to when the last strike took place,” she told Personnel Today.

A Chartered Institute of Management (CMI) survey of more than 900 managers, published in March 2010, showed that 54% believed their organisations were prepared “to a great extent” for remote working.

Ruth Spellman, chief executive at the CMI, said: “If individuals are productive and motivated to achieve their targets within sensible working hours, they should be rewarded, not made to feel that they are shirking work by going home on time or working from home. By creating an environment which empowers managers to take control of their hours, and giving them the tools to do so, both individuals and their businesses will boost their overall performance.”

A spokesman for the LCCI said the Chamber was clear that its estimate was based on the 2007 survey but added that it believed the figure was still broadly accurate three years on.

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