Monday 5th December 2022

(1 year, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Question for Short Debate
Asked by
Lord Goddard of Stockport Portrait Lord Goddard of Stockport
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of their decision not to introduce a new Transport Bill on (1) the establishment of Great British Railways, and (2) plans to improve rail services in the north of England and Northern Powerhouse Rail.

Lord Goddard of Stockport Portrait Lord Goddard of Stockport (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I begin by thanking all noble Lords who are about to speak in this important debate, the Minister who will reply and the Library for its background notes. The transport Bill was intended to improve transport across the UK, deliver cleaner, safer services and enable more innovation. It would provide a new body, Great British Railways, with the powers it needed to act as a single national leader for railways. Can the Minister assure this House that legislation will be brought forward in the next Session—that is, 2023—to ensure this happens? Without Great British Railways, the future of our railways cannot move forward in a joined-up and cohesive manner.

Noble Lords may be surprised to hear that tonight I am not going to rant and rave about Avanti trains, no matter how tempting that might be. However, I will ask the Minister some questions later. I hope the House will also agree that my contribution will not be just another northern whinging exercise—far from it.

The north is proud of the giant steps we continue to take to deliver a comprehensive, integrated transport system. Genuine real-time integration of buses with trams and trains is enabling commuters to get to the new jobs being created, offering new opportunities for businesses to expand and grow, and allowing people access to much-needed green spaces and countryside. A successful rail service is vital to delivering those objectives. In Greater Manchester, 65% of journeys are still made by car and this is not helping our decarbonising agenda, which is another strategic objective.

These are a series of interconnecting plans to give the public and business the greatest chance of recovering from the pandemic and at the same time improve the quality of life for all our people. Despite everything, including massive disruption, train usage is rising faster in the north than in any other region. Of course, funding is the key to any improvements and comparing funding for the north with that for the south must make difficult reading for any compassionate Government committed to levelling up. London has seen £19 billion for Crossrail and £6 billion spent on subsidising London Underground during Covid, to name but two. Compare that spend with any other region in the country, never mind the north, and noble Lords will see our frustrations.

I shall ask the Minister four questions regarding northern railways. First, will the Government permit train operators negotiating freedoms to resolve rest-day working so a reliable services can be restored with immediate effect, especially in the vital pre-Christmas and new year period? Secondly, will the Government consider publishing a public assessment—in mid-January, for instance—of whether Avanti West Coast and TransPennine Express, both run by the same company, are delivering on the promised service restoration? For the avoidance of doubt, Avanti has promised, from 11 December, three trains an hour from London to Manchester without fail. Thirdly, will the Government, with immediate effect, place TransPennine Express on similar notice if, as with Avanti, its December timetable is not delivered? If they fail, both should be stripped of their contracts. Sooner or later, the Government must act. When will the Government bring forward legislation for the reforms set out in the Keith Williams report 18 months ago, which will bring track and train, profit and loss, and revenue and costs together, enabling meaningful devolution to combined authority mayors?

Everyone agrees that the railway needs investment and modernising, and increased investment has a price to be paid. We know that modernising may mean fewer people and different working conditions, but have we learned nothing from the 1970s and 1980s? Head-on confrontation benefits no one, and the people who suffer are the usual suspects—the hard-working general public. Surely, the role of government is to govern: is it too much to ask, in 2023, to have a functioning, reliable rail service for the UK?

Lord McLoughlin Portrait Lord McLoughlin (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Goddard, for securing this debate and I draw attention to my entry in the register of interests as chairman of Transport for the North. I endorse what the noble Lord said about the importance of the railway industry and the railways right across the north. I think everybody accepts that the service provided at the moment, be it by Avanti, TransPennine Express or Northern Trains, is not the kind of service we need and require. I say “need and require” because if we talk about the importance overall of the northern powerhouse and the service, the most important thing to anybody who relies on public transport is reliability, knowing the train is going to be there. What is being suffered at the moment, with cancellations the day before and on the day, is basically undermining the confidence of commuters and the passenger/traveller right across the region.

I wish my honourable friends and the new Secretary of State, Mark Harper, every success—I met Mark and said that one of my most enjoyable times was as Secretary of State for Transport. The interesting appointment is not just that of the Secretary of State, but that of Huw Merriman as Rail Minister, because he comes with special knowledge, having for the last three years chaired the Transport Select Committee. Indeed, I gave evidence in the early stages of my appointment as chairman of Transport for the North on the integrated rail plan, which was published by the Transport Select Committee around last May. It is a first-class document, it had first-class ownership in the then chairman of the Transport Committee, and I wish him well now in adapting what he said as chairman of the Transport Committee and putting it into action.

There is no doubting the economic impact of the current dispute and the problems across the region. I hope a way forward can be found, because one has to be forthcoming. I accept what the noble Lord, Lord Goddard, said about investment in other parts of the country, but we have seen investment in the railways; we have seen vast investment. Indeed, back in 1992, some 700 million journeys a year were made on our railways. The last year before the pandemic, it was some 1.9 billion, and that has been a revolution—I put it as strongly as that—in what our railways were providing. What we are now going back to is a time when people regard the railways as unreliable, and if they are unreliable, people will not use those particular schemes.

Part of the problem with transport is the long time it takes for big infrastructure changes. That does not mean that we cannot see changes that happen much more quickly, but some of the longer-term issues, such as building HS2, need long-term solutions. We are now well under way as far as that is concerned; it has been planned since 2009, publicly at least, and now one can see that infrastructure taking shape as far as its development is concerned.

But there are other congestion spots on the system that need to be addressed, not least Leeds station, which is now responsible for something like a third of the delays in the country. A long-term commitment is required to address some of the issues as far as Leeds is concerned. There was undoubted disappointment regarding the lack of a new station as far as Bradford is concerned, and I very much hope that, with the things that were in the Transport Select Committee, these issues will be addressed.

In the very few seconds that I have got left I would just like to place on record my great thanks to Liam Robinson, who has been chair of the Rail North Committee since 2015, and has been excellently involved in pushing forward that agenda. He has now taken on a new role; he has become leader of—

Lord Davies of Gower Portrait Lord Davies of Gower (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Can I ask the noble Lord to complete his speech?

Lord McLoughlin Portrait Lord McLoughlin (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

He has now become leader of Liverpool City Council, so, having taken on a fairly controversial job, he now has an even greater challenge. So, those are some of the issues which are faced as far as transport is concerned, and I wish my noble friend well in her challenge ahead.

Lord Snape Portrait Lord Snape (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, like the noble Lord who has just spoken, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Goddard, for the opportunity to say a few words today; I hope the Government Whip will be as generous with my time as he was to the last speaker. The noble Lord, Lord Goddard, said this was not going to be a whinge about Avanti Trains. Well, that is fine: he can leave that to me. I promise that it will get an honourable mention during the four minutes available to me.

There are a few things that unite TransPennine Express with Avanti Trains: the ownership for a start. They are both owned by FirstGroup and they are both on similar contracts—contracts which I have said before in this House are virtually cost-plus, so whether they run trains or not they are paid. Indeed, they get a bonus from the department from time to time for running trains, although they cause widespread dissatisfaction among their passengers—in particular so far as Avanti Trains are concerned.

The noble Baroness will say during the course of her reply, in her normal, helpful way, that “All will change with the new timetable”. Well, I will just remind her that the new timetable is six days away; what is happening today on our railways as far as these two companies are concerned? On TransPennine Express there are no less than 70 cancellations and alterations this very day, six days before this new timetable is about to start.

Regarding Avanti Trains, I have had three phone messages today: two cancellations, and one late running, so far as trains between Birmingham and London are concerned. The fact that both cancellations are due to what is called “shortage of train crew” does not exactly fill me with hope that in five days’ time they will be miraculously transformed, and we will get the three trains an hour between London and Birmingham that we were promised—and the noble Lord, Lord Goddard, will get three trains an hour between Manchester and London as well. I do not think that the omens are particularly good for what will happen from Sunday onwards, so I hope the Minister can come up with a better response—I know it is not her fault, I know she is not the Rail Minister—than we have had recently.

The fares that are charged these days should not go unnoticed. This Government talk about carbon capture and reducing carbon. Those who participate regularly in these debates about the railway industry will be aware that I have spent some time working on the railway myself; I have probably bored both Houses over the years with some stories. It was unheard of in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s when I worked on the railway for a passenger train to be cancelled; now they are cancelled as a matter of course. There was a two-hour gap this very afternoon in trains between Birmingham and London thanks to Avanti Trains. I was in such a temper that I threw away the question that I was going to ask last Thursday to detail the shambolic journey that I had between Birmingham and London as recently as that; I asked to see a manager and I am still waiting.

The management do not answer letters: in fact, they deny receiving letters from Members of this House. There is no management at Birmingham International. Indeed, the booking office has been closed and there is no way of buying a ticket after 10 o’clock—and we are told that the necessity to recoup revenue is essential so far as the running of our railways is concerned.

I refer to my own railway experience: it is exactly 50 years since I was a booking clerk at Macclesfield. The first class return fare from Macclesfield to London was £7.50. If the Minister and I took a train these days from Macclesfield to London at 8 am, the return first class fare would be £360.20; that has not gone up with inflation, it has flown through the roof. This is a Government who have refused to increase taxes on motoring for 14 years, and yet we see what has happened with the railway industry.

By coincidence—I will close on this as I do not want to take as long as the previous speaker—my stepson and his partner are in Tenerife at the moment. They have paid £360 each for a week in Tenerife, all-inclusive in a three-star hotel. Now this is advisory, not an invitation—I do not want to be referred to the Standards Committee at my time of life—but the Minister and I, instead of going to Macclesfield and paying that sort of money, could have had a week in Tenerife, all-inclusive. The rail fare structure is nonsensical, and the service is even worse.

Lord Shipley Portrait Lord Shipley (LD)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Goddard for tabling this debate. As he said, we need a single, national leadership for our railways. The present crisis on the rail network is unacceptable for those trying to travel, it is damaging to our economy and it needs resolution, as the noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin, said a moment ago.

It is the job of government to intervene in the case of market failure such as this, and the current dislocation cannot have come as a surprise, since too many trains depended on drivers working on their rest days—a dangerous business model. But I want to pay tribute to LNER, which also operates in the north of England—and we should note that it is of course nationalised. LNER has managed the dislocation of strikes in an impressive way. In my experience it has planned well and communicated well with passengers, and I personally have had little trouble in travelling in recent weeks, although the strikes have certainly been inconvenient. Promises have been made about driver training by some of the underperforming operators. I would like to ask the Minister whether she could tell us whether there are actually enough drivers now being trained by Avanti and TransPennine Express?

In the levelling-up White Paper, mission 3 states:

“By 2030, local public transport connectivity across the country will be significantly closer to the standards of London, with improved services, simpler fares and integrated ticketing.”

To achieve this needs the full Northern Powerhouse Rail plan, which was reconfirmed by Liz Truss when she was Prime Minister, after being downgraded by the previous Prime Minister. That plan included the reopening of the Leamside line in Durham as a freight diversionary route which would free up train paths on the east coast main line and thus route capacity. It is a very important investment opportunity, and I would welcome anything positive the Minister can say about this proposal which would bring substantial benefits to the network. The current Prime Minister has since downgraded the full Northern Powerhouse Rail plan when, I submit, it is essential if levelling up is to mean much.

The Tyne and Wear Metro system has been very important since its inception nearly 50 years ago. There is a proposal to link Washington to the Metro system to create the Washington Metro loop. This proposal was formally launched by Transport North East last month and has reached the first stage of a business case. I very much hope for government support for the next phase of the work needed for such an extension. Together, the Leamside line and the Washington Metro loop would be a significant gain for the economy of the north-east, and I hope that they can be supported.

Finally, cancelling the eastern leg of HS2—assuming that is the final decision—will have very serious implications for Yorkshire and the north-east of England because private sector investment for development will follow the new HS2 track. If the track stops, developer investment will be much more difficult to attract across much of the north of England, hence smaller but important projects at a more local level will matter to the more distant parts of England from London.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Goddard. He said that this is an important debate, and it is, because the Government are doing something a little bit naughty—which is, of course, not uncommon. I will concentrate on the first part of the Question: the establishment of Great British Railways without a transport Bill. I do not see how this can operate, so I am very concerned that the Minister should answer a few questions about the practicality of the whole endeavour.

What assessment have the Government made of the financial impact of delaying the switch from passenger franchises to operating contracts? Presumably, that will be a factor in the Minister’s reply. Are the contracts cheaper, for example? Is there a cost to the delay? If the Government are going to implement some of the Williams review recommendations early—pending legislation—will that include clear targets for Great British Railways, as envisaged? For example, are greenhouse gas targets, or perhaps disabled access targets, going to be included?

The situation absolutely puzzles me. Great British Railways needs new powers—for example, for fares and timetables—but the Secretary of State does not have them. Which bits of this can the Government do without legislation? How on earth are we going to hold anyone to account, if not through this House? It seems to me that the Government have given the excuse of not being able to find parliamentary time for not bringing a transport Bill forward. I use “excuse” because that is not a reason. I can offer several Bills that really ought not to have been put through already or could be delayed without harming anything. In fact, some would offer a considerable improvement—for example, the retained EU law Bill could be shelved and a transport Bill brought in.

It seems to me that the Government are in complete chaos over this issue. It is a good idea to bring in Great British Railways, but this cannot be done without accountability or very clear legislation. Please can the Minister explain which bits we are going to have, which bits we are not going to have, how we are going to hold everybody to account and, of course, how much it is going to cost?

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Goddard on this important and timely debate. We are not asking for a lot for the sixth largest economy in the world and the place that gave the world the railways. We just seek a train service that is affordable, comfortable and reliable so that we can get to work, school or business meetings on time, and move from town to town and city to city without feeling that we are in a tin of sardines, squashed and squeezed. It is unacceptable that, in 2022, in the north of England, we are not able to do that, with all the social, economic and environmental consequences that has for so many people, businesses and communities. The 2019 Conservative manifesto promised a “transport revolution”—believe me, there are many rebellions daily in the train stations of the north of England because the Government have failed to bring about any stirrings of significant change, never mind a revolution.

Good train connections are the lifeblood of modern and successful economies, and poor train services are a drag on social mobility and economic improvement. Some 60 to 100 trains a day are cancelled by two of the major operators in the north, but these are just reported cancellations, because a trick—the P notification route—is used. P cancellations are meant to be used in exceptional circumstances, but TransPennine Express uses them all the time. If it cancels a train before 10 pm the previous evening, it is not reported as a cancelled train. Cancellations of trains in the north were therefore underreported by over 1,000 in the last month by TransPennine Express alone. Will the Minister commit the Government to stopping this loophole?

It is no good union-bashing; these issues are caused by an unsustainable business model. You cannot run a sustainable train service that relies on people’s good will to drive trains on their rest days or do overtime. Will the Minister commit to getting the train operators to stop this ridiculous way of working and to have a business model that means a named driver is allocated to all timetabled trains? If not, why are the Government allowing these train operators to continue with their contracts in this way?

Investment is required. While £18.9 billion was spent on the Elizabeth line in London, I note that last year’s integrated rail plan reduced capital investment by £36 billion, most of which was in the north. As the Northern Powerhouse Partnership pointed out, £24.9 billion of that reduction was in the north. This will affect cities such as the one I am proud to call home: Sheffield. With 560,000 people and £15 billion in GDP, home of two world-class universities and sitting centrally on the north’s east-west train corridor, it is blighted by poor rail services. It takes you longer to get to places such as Hull, Liverpool, Huddersfield and Manchester Airport from Sheffield than it does to fly from Manchester to Paris.

Talking of Manchester Airport, it is absolutely scandalous that Sheffield has had its direct train service to its major international airport taken away. That was done sneakily by TransPennine Express during the height of the Covid pandemic. There is no direct train service between the fourth largest city in England and its major international airport—does the Minister think that that is acceptable? Does she think it helps economic growth? What will the Government do to ensure that TransPennine Express reinstates this valuable and vital service?

We want a rail service fit for the 21st century in the north, not this terrible, expensive and unreliable shambles we have now.

Lord Liddle Portrait Lord Liddle (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, when I read the Williams review, I thought it was a very well-considered document. I would like to ask the Minister a number of questions about services affecting the north and my own home area. What is the real reason for the delay in not going ahead with the Great British Railways proposal? Is it legislative time? As others have pointed out, we have had a lot of pretty useless Bills, which are totally unimplementable, going through this place at great length, such as the asylum and immigration Bills, and all sorts of others that people could cite. Is legislative time the reason, or is it that the Treasury, having realised how much overspending has occurred, particularly in London, as a result of Covid, simply wants to find a way of keeping the transport budget within bounds by cutting back on future investments which were once promised?

On Avanti trains and TransPennine Express, can the Minister tell us firmly what her timetable for a decision on these franchises is? If there is no improvement, when will she act? I do not see any evidence of improvement in my own journeys to and from the north. What I see, from London to Glasgow, is virtually every other train being cancelled, and the trains that are left being packed out. Who financially benefits from this? Does the operator benefit from it? Do the Government? Will she make a statement on how the finances of the chaos in these franchises actually work out?

The Government do not appreciate the economic damage that this chaos produces. In recent years—the past decade or two—we have had a lot of people come to live up north in Cumbria on the basis that they can run a consultancy business, which involves regular travel a couple of days a week probably to London, Birmingham or other parts of the country. However, this model of living in a nice place in the north and occasionally going to see your clients in the south just does not work if we do not have an effective train service. People will give up on it. That is a worrying development.

Finally, since George Osborne in 2011-12, the Government have talked at great length about the northern powerhouse, getting on with the east-west link and all that, but what is actually happening? When will contractors start on building something new to link our great northern cities together? I fear that what we need is not a lot of talk but some action. We are not getting any decisive action by this Government.

Baroness Randerson Portrait Baroness Randerson (LD)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, this has been an excellent short debate. I thank my noble friend Lord Goddard for introducing it; this is a very important issue.

My noble friend asked four specific questions, all of them requiring action from the Government. That is what we have been lacking. I am aware that an awful lot of questions have been asked of the Minister. I will add to that number. I urge her to be specific in her answers and write to us, because she will not have time to answer all our questions but the answers need to be on the record. We do not want vague assurances.

My noble friend Lord Scriven referred to an important issue that has an impact on the Government’s jet-zero strategy. The Government are relying on airports becoming carbon-neutral in the near future, yet a cut has occurred to the train line between Sheffield and Manchester, reducing the carbon efficiency of Manchester Airport. That hurts at a time when the Elizabeth Line has just opened up a third way of getting to Heathrow by train and Luton Airport has just had a new rail link costing £260 million.

The noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin, referred to the economic impact of the state of the railways in the north. The noble Lord, Lord Snape, referred to the fact that we take cancellations for granted. The Government blame Covid for the cancellation problems but Covid affected all train operating companies and not all of them have the same bad record as TransPennine and Avanti West Coast. I travel on Great Western on a regular, weekly basis. I do not want to tempt fate, but cancellations are rare there. The staff are extremely well trained, pleasant and helpful. I would say that the difference is in the management and its quality.

I say to the Minister that it is therefore rather insulting that Avanti, for example, has continued to get its performance payment despite cancelling more trains than any other operator. TransPennine, Northern and Avanti trains have an appalling record on cancellations. The issue I asked the Minister about last week, of which she was unaware—the loophole in the way in which cancellations are made—was referred to by my noble friend Lord Scriven. It is important that the Government look again at the way in which cancellations are dealt with and reported because, at the moment, they are understated as a result of the way in which they are allowed to be reported. My noble friend Lord Shipley made a valuable contribution about the importance of the railways to the economy of the north.

There was a glimmer of hope for improvement with the Williams-Shapps review but that seems to have flickered and died. Several noble Lords referred to the importance of implementing that review. Can the Minister tell us when we can expect legislation—indeed, if we can expect legislation—to introduce its recommendations?

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Goddard, for initiating this important debate.

The confusion surrounding the future of Great British Railways is a symptom of the problems facing passengers around the UK. Each month, almost 18,000 Northern Rail services are now lost, with everyday disruption becoming the norm on UK railways. At the same time, £12 million in dividends is approved to under-fire operator Avanti West Coast in what is clearly a reward for abject failure. Will the Government finally put Avanti West Coast and TPE on a binding remedial plan to restore services, with clear penalties including withdrawal of the contract?

Unfortunately, as noble Lords have pointed out, this chaos is part of a wider problem resulting in part from poor transport connectivity, which is now costing the north £16 billion per year in lost growth. Like the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, I was appalled by Saturday’s Guardian article highlighting the practice of train operators making pre-emptive cancellations by 10 pm the night before, which are not counted in government statistics. The worst offender is TPE, of course. Louise Haigh, the shadow Transport Secretary, demanded that the Government close this loophole and begin withdrawing contracts from failing operators. Will the Minister undertake to do this, particularly with this scandal continuing?

Will the Minister now commit to delivering infrastructure fit for the century ahead by building the transformational Northern Powerhouse Rail project in full? Without Great British Railways, the industry has no direction or leadership on the future of rail. The delays to legislation, paired with the delays to the update of the rail network enhancements pipeline, is creating more and more uncertainty.

I conclude by echoing the comments and questions from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. What estimate has the Minister made of how much this delay in setting up GB Railways is going to cost the taxpayer?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Transport (Baroness Vere of Norbiton) (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Goddard, and other noble Lords for their contributions to the debate. It has been another opportunity to discuss rail services, which I am always grateful for. Every time, I learn a little more and have a few more things to take back to the department. I apologise at the outset that noble Lords have not yet received the letter relating to a meeting with the Rail Minister. I can absolutely guarantee that it is in train; we are just trying to sort out diaries. I will then ensure that noble Lords can raise all their concerns directly with him, because there are a number of concerns about services that I have already fed back but am keen for him to hear directly from noble Lords.

I want to loop back to the title of this debate, which is about the decision not to introduce a transport Bill in the current Session. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Goddard—indeed, all noble Lords—that our work on rail continues apace. The Government remain committed to rail reform and continue to analyse the numerous and detailed responses from the summer’s consultation. We are committed to and focused on providing high-quality rail services throughout the country, particularly in the north of England where noble Lords have highlighted and identified recent changes. Finally, we remain committed to our plan to invest billions of pounds in rail infrastructure across the north and the Midlands, which includes the Northern Powerhouse Rail core network.

Turning to rail reform, in his plan for rail White Paper, Keith Williams set out the challenges facing rail—well, the challenges facing rail at that time. Life has changed quite significantly, because since then we have had a pandemic, the impact of which has been twofold. There has been Covid scarring on travel patterns: leisure has come back pretty much to where it was before, but business travel has not. The railways and passenger needs look different now.

The pandemic also affected training for train drivers and similar members of staff, and that has had an impact. It takes a very long time to train a train driver. The figure of 18 months is in my mind, but I am not entirely sure that is right. It is not weeks but months and months and months. Also, if train drivers want to change routes after a period of time, they have to retrain. That has been another issue; they have been unable to retrain on different routes during the pandemic.

It is right that in the face of that—and given the lack of parliamentary time for what is, I will not lie, quite a substantial Bill—we have chosen not to introduce it in the current Session. But we are using that time appropriately. To loop back to where we started—the White Paper, with input from the Government—those were proposals. Over the summer, there was significant and substantial consultation, which I believe closed in August. We received a large number of detailed proposals and responses to that consultation. If there is one thing I want to be able to do when I take the transport Bill through, it is to look noble Lords in the face say that we did ask industry and passenger groups and make sure that our proposals had been fully tested. Therefore, I am unable to answer all the questions about GBR relating to the costs and delay. To a certain extent, GBR is still in formation and under development. We are still looking at what it will do, what it will not do and how it can provide the guiding mind between track and train that was envisaged.

However, that does not mean that nothing is happening. The GBR transition team is already looking carefully at one of the key elements of the White Paper—the long-term strategy for rail that looks at a 30-year vision. Noble Lords will have seen our call for evidence on the new rail freight growth target. Noble Lords may also have heard me talk about the audit of more than 2,000 stations, looking at their accessibility. That work has continued, and we are making progress on modern digital ticketing options such as pay-as-you-go and national flexi season tickets. All these reforms can happen without legislative underpinning. We are very keen to put the legislation in place, but that does not mean that nothing has happened in the meantime. We continue to focus on reforms.

I heard yet again noble Lords’ many concerns about services. I am terribly disappointed and very sorry for the services currently happening on Avanti, TransPennine Express and, to a certain extent, Northern. We are well aware of them. We are hearing the concerns and holding those train operating companies to account for the things that are within their control. As the noble Lord, Lord Collins, noted, we have in place a remedial plan with Avanti. Frankly, Avanti is on probation. It has a contract, which will end in April. If it is unable to up its game, it will not have that contract renewed.

As I set out at the start of my speech, one of the primary causes of the recent problems has been the shortage of train drivers, both to work a standard roster pattern and those who choose to take on overtime to deliver a seven-day railway. On the first issue, increasing the number of train drivers, we are working to address that. Through the Rail North Partnership, the department is working with Transport for the North and collaborating with operators and northern leaders to establish a northern rail academy. This will be a multilocation training academy to offer the skills and opportunities needed for a career in rail. The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, mentioned this. We are focused on improving the routes through for people who want to become train drivers.

Rest-day working, or overtime, has formed part of the railway industry for decades. Drivers can earn significantly more, and it is voluntary. They do not have to do it, yet they do. At TPE, under the rest-day working agreement that recently came to an end, a driver would get 1.75 times their standard salary and a minimum of 10 hours—I would go to work for that. That is clearly a significant boost. I would not want to turn around and say that rest-day working or overtime would be completely banned. I am not wholly sure that the drivers would necessarily want that, but I am keen to work with drivers to understand how the train operating companies reach an agreement that is right and not over-reliant on that. As we have seen at Avanti, where rest-day working has been withdrawn—the drivers are volunteering not to do it—the service has had significant difficulties. At TPE the situation is different. The rest-day working agreement has fallen away and the unions have chosen not to put the TOC’s proposals to their members, such that they could see whether they want to put the rest-day agreement in place. Then, of course, they could volunteer to do that or not; it is their choice. Nobody is forcing anybody to work on their rest day.

Noble Lords will have heard me talk previously about Avanti West Coast and its trials and tribulations. We expect a significant timetable uptick in December. Unfortunately, there will be some strikes after that uptick, which means noble Lords may not see the sorts of changes I would expect. However, let us focus on that timetable change. There will be significant changes to the timetable in the north. Some of these deliver the Manchester Recovery Task Force plan. Indeed, many of the services to and from Manchester take into account the Castlefield corridor. It is very congested at the moment, which has required some changes to services. These were put in place by the Manchester Recovery Task Force, which decided—I am so sorry to the noble Lord, Lord Scriven—that the direct service from Sheffield to Manchester Airport should not be maintained. The Government have plans to enhance the infrastructure around Manchester, which will alleviate that congestion. At that point, of course, we will be able to see many more services to and from Manchester Airport.

The noble Lords, Lord Scriven and Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, mentioned this issue about loopholes. I took that back to the department and will write in more detail about how it works. For the time being, I can say this: train operating companies have a contractual obligation to flag any changes they make to a timetable to the Transport Secretary in good time. Delays and cancellations are adverse to passengers and business. DfT factors in all cancellations when assessing operator performance. Key to all of this must be communications with passengers. It must not be the case that there is some sort of incentive to do something at short notice that could have been done with more notice to passengers.

I will briefly speak on infrastructure. I am very conscious that I have not answered all the questions. My noble friend Lord McLoughlin said that infrastructure and rail enhancement is a long-term game. As a Transport Minister, that is probably one of the most frustrating things. Also, for what is often many years before a spade goes into the ground, one has to do all of the approvals processes, et cetera. That means it sometimes feels like nothing is happening—but things are happening. The Government are committed to the integrated rail plan and the core northern powerhouse network. We will look at other programmes on an adaptive approach to see which investments are or are not working.

The Leamside line and the metro to Washington are much more local projects. The noble Lord will be aware that the Government are in discussions with local leaders about the city region sustainable transport settlements. We believe that those sorts of enhancements should fall within that type of spending, such that it is led by local leaders according to local priorities.

The Government remain committed to a modern seven-day railway. We recognise that there needs to be legislative change to achieve everything we want from the White Paper. However, we also recognise that people had some very significant views and gave some good responses to the consultation. It is right that we use this time to re-look at those responses and ensure that whatever legislation we bring before your Lordships’ House is right.

We are committed to improving services. We will have a change in December. Many noble Lords mentioned performance fees and dividends. Neither of those related to the period in which we have seen these cancellations: they were for previous periods. Publication of performance fees for the most recent periods will be coming very soon. Noble Lords will then be able to see the implications.

I remain grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Goddard, and all noble Lords. I will write with further answers to the questions.

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Before the Minister sits down, and for the record, she said that the change to the Sheffield to Manchester Airport service was due to the work undertaken by the Manchester consortium. Is it correct that the discussion and public consultation was jointly by that organisation and the Department for Transport, and that the department was therefore privy to the decision taken?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes, absolutely. The Manchester taskforce that I referred to consists of the Department for Transport, the train operating companies, Network Rail, Transport for the North and Transport for Greater Manchester. As you can see, it is a mixture between the Government, local government, train operating companies and Network Rail. There is congestion in the Manchester area, and we would obviously hope to reinstate those services as we can, but clearly some prioritisation had to be made.

Sitting suspended.