May 23, 2008 / 12:27 PM / 9 years ago

Unions warn about new London transport chief

<p>London's mayor Boris Johnson waits for an underground train at High Street Kensington tube station in London May 7, 2008. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez</p>

LONDON (Reuters) - Unions have warned of a potential showdown with Mayor of London Boris Johnson if his preferred choice for transport chief, private equity executive Tim Parker, gets the go-ahead.

Parker, who has been chief executive at motoring group the AA, car-repair company Kwik-Fit and shoemaker Clarks, has been nominated chairman of Transport for London (TfL).

But unions, fearful of his reputation for ruthless cost-cutting, said they would take action if jobs or services were threatened on the city’s buses and train systems.

The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), which represents London Underground drivers and station staff, said if Parker was appointed he should “leave his asset-stripping reputation at the door”.

“Tim Parker has a reputation as a private-equity asset-stripper and has been dubbed the Prince of Darkness by unions that have encountered his methods in the past,” RMT General Secretary Bob Crow said in a statement.

“We are well aware of his track record, and Mr Parker has the opportunity to leave that reputation behind him when he starts work for the Mayor of London.”

Crow warned that the union, which held a Tube strike last September over job loss concerns and organised a planned strike last month, would defend its members in the face of any future cuts to jobs, working conditions and interests.

“The world’s finest metro system does not need an asset-stripper or a Prince of Darkness, but it does need its modernisation programme,” he added.

The GMB union said Parker’s nomination signalled a “scary” moment for London’s commuters.

It pointed to Parker’s time as chief executive of the AA when it was owned by the private equity firms, Permira and CVC Capital Partners, during which time about a third of the workforce was cut, prompting a union campaign against the buyout industry.

Parker’s TfL appointment is subject to consultation with the London Assembly, but he has already been appointed First Deputy Mayor and Chief Executive of the Greater London Authority group, starting on July 7.

The Conservative mayor, who defeated two-term Labour Mayor Ken Livingstone in a May 1 election, said Parker was ideally and uniquely equipped for delivering value for money.

“His skills, insight and experience will be invaluable,” Johnson added.

Parker said in a statement: “I’ve spent my career taking over struggling companies and making them strong. I see wonderful opportunities to transform the infrastructure of London and deliver better services to Londoners.”

Editing by Steve Addison

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