(1 year, 3 months ago)Read Full debate
It is good to see you in the Chair, Mr Owen, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) for opening the debate with many pertinent points, as well as going over the heritage of our railways. I am pleased to say that the Rocket will end up residing at the National Railway Museum in York where it will have a good home. Our city can certainly boast its share of rail heritage.
I represent York, which is the mid-point on the east coast main line and a significant railway hub that brings many networks together. I therefore have a constituency interest to ensure that we get the right upgrade—as we have heard, it is well overdue. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Karen Lee) and from the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) about the significance of good connectivity through to London—my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) and other hon. Members also mentioned connectivity. We must ensure that we get right that connectivity to the main line, and keep those flows moving through. Although we are talking about the east coast main line, this debate is also about routes that feed into that line and are being brought into the modern age, so that they are not, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North described, a kind of heritage rail service. We must ensure that control period 6 considers the continuum of a journey as opposed to the segregation of different routes.
Too often with transportation not only are road, rail and other forms of transport segregated, but separate segments of our fragmented rail system go to different places. Instead, we need to understand the power of connectivity and bring that forward. One of our biggest frustrations in the north is the fact that the Government have downgraded the trans-Pennine opportunity—Crossrail for the north—which would create connectivity between Liverpool, Manchester, through to Leeds, York and Hull, stretching north and south and, importantly, feeding into Sheffield and getting that connectivity right. We must connect up the powerhouse of the northern cities and drive the economy forward. Without that we have linear routes as opposed to the rail consolidation we need—that point was made powerfully by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North.
This is not just about rail; it is about economic growth. The tremendous site of York Central sits adjacent to the main line. We want investment, and upgrading the east coast main line is one opportunity to drive that forward. Connectivity to the ports and across the trans-Pennine route will enhance that, as will heading north to Newcastle and Scotland.
We unquestionably need more capacity and speed, and we certainly need fewer delays—that is the real frustration faced by many passengers. It was shocking to learn this week that stations in York had the second highest number of delays in the country. The measure was just one minute, but that still leads to the stark realisation that we need great improvement across our rail networks.
The lack of investment in control period 5 has brought that into sharp focus. There are bottlenecks. There are overhead power line failures around, I think, the Retford area, which cause constant delays there. There are problems with old-fashioned fencing, through which animals come on to the tracks with great frequency. If animals can get on to the tracks, so can people, which creates a safety risk. The numerous level crossings along that route snarl up different conurbations. We need to ensure that the power needed to drive our railway into the future is available.
We also all know about the issues with our old infrastructure and rolling stock. That brings me on to the new Azuma trains, which have been put on pause by the Office of Rail and Road. Will the Minister tell us more about that? We understand that ORR has put the pause on because it requires Hitachi to resolve some safety issues, yet it has not withdrawn trains elsewhere on the network that have the same problems, including the Pendolino trains. There seems to be inconsistency in the safety features of those new trains and we need to understand why. I sat down with representatives from LNER last week who were also scratching their heads about that inconsistency, as were those from Network Rail. We therefore look to control period 6 to deliver a railway for the future.
Engineers say that one of their biggest frustrations is that they are brought in to find the best way to generate the most efficient and cost-effective rail enhancements at the wrong stage of the process. We need to ensure that, when engineering takes place, it is of the highest spec possible, because this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the east coast main line. We do not want to have to keep going back and tinkering with and tweaking the spec. We want that investment at the forefront. Why have we seen a downgrade in the money? LNER and Network Rail told me that more resource is needed to bring the enhancement and opportunity to the east coast main line that we need, so I want to know why that spec has been reduced.
Tracks are being upgraded, which we recognise the need for, as is the overhead line equipment between Peterborough and Doncaster—I mentioned Retford—and the power supply for digital signalling. Anyone who has the opportunity to visit the Rail Operating Centre in York will see the absolutely mind-blowing things that digital signalling can achieve. We will also have welcome upgrades of fencing and bridge-strike prevention planning. I talked to engineers in my constituency from Low & Bonar about their using laser technology to look at the strength of bridges and the opportunity that that provides. They can use digitalisation to engineer infrastructure, and to work with train designers as they do so. Level crossing closures are also needed. However, the opening up of Kings Cross will also be a real enhancement to the line.
We need to make sure that we have the full benefit of digital rail on the east coast main line, because that is where the future of our rail network sits. That upgrade is therefore important—it is a passion of the route operator of the east coast main line. It is certainly also one of mine and will be one of any future Labour Government. We will take those strides into the future, not into the past.
We know what needs to be done on the railways and do not need another year-long review. The power of bringing operations back under public control has been shown, with an increase in LNER patronage since it took over the east coast main line franchise. There is no appetite for a fourth franchising process. However, we need to bring track and train together in the public sector to bring the connectivity together. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (John Grogan) that we absolutely believe that we should invest in new routes and new opportunities, and that we can do that under a national rail service. That is certainly what we want to do. It will not be a big, centralised body, as in the British Rail days. We are looking for a new model of public ownership that very much listens the voice of the passenger at the local level when devising what to do. He will have to hold his breath before seeing the details. We have been working with the industry, and it is very excited about the model we are putting forward.
We also need to ensure that we see a return for the passenger as well as the state, and we believe that our model will deliver that. We have rightly heard of VTEC’s £2 billion scandal. It robbed that money from passengers and got away with it, and passengers are now paying more and more for tickets.
There is without doubt great opportunity for the future of the network. Journey times will be down. We also have to think of the opportunity for growth. Some 80 million passengers travel on that route each year. We want a modal shift, with people having confidence in the reliability of rail and moving out of their cars. Since 22 May, people up and down the country have lost confidence in rail because of the timetabling chaos. Our model will make sure that that can never be repeated. Putting responsibility for operations and infrastructure in one place will mitigate against such disasters as those we have seen on the Government’s watch.
We want to make sure that rail is focused on the passenger, with good environments for passengers from stations through to trains, making sure that it is a public service in which people can once again have confidence. That requires good investment, which is what we want from the Government.
Will the Minister explain why there has been a reduction in the amount made available to provide the upgrade when £900 million was requested?
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I was referring to the cabling of the trains and to the fact that passengers or members of the public could climb up on the roof. There was an electrocution on a Pendolino train because of that design, yet those trains are still running on the Great Western route, even though the Office of Rail and Road has stopped them running on the east coast.
(1 year, 3 months ago)Read Full debate
Every day, women make choices on the basis of their safety, continually planning, checking and trying to read situations. Since 2012, sexual crime has seen a staggering 167% increase on our railways, to a record 2,472 cases last year. Women are 13 times more affected than men and the highest increases are in areas where trains operate without guards. What strategy are the Government deploying to ensure that all women feel, and are, safe?
Public order offences also rose by 116% over the same time period. A staggering 11,711 violent crime offences were committed just last year, with a total of 61,159 criminal offences in 2017-18, again hitting record highs. As we know, the presence of people in authority reduces the prevalence of crime, so can the Minister tell the House why he supports removing guards from trains—the very people who are passenger safety champions?
(1 year, 6 months ago)Read Full debate
No one has ever told me that before, so thank you, Mrs Moon. I will come to my conclusion.
We want to ensure that the rail system works for passengers, that it improves social mobility, that it drives our whole economy forward and that it causes modal shift, to ensure that people are not getting into their cars, as they are today, but back on to the railways. That is why Labour’s model will work, and when we get into power, we will put it in place.
(1 year, 6 months ago)Read Full debate
It was a Labour Government who established the NHS, and today we thank all who have served in it since.
Following the Secretary of State’s statement on the timetable chaos to the House on 4 June, he said in his response to the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) that, with regard to compensation, the train operating companies
“will have to meet the cost of that.”—[Official Report, 4 June 2018; Vol. 642, c. 59.]
That is so untrue. It is Network Rail that will be funding the compensation. Last year alone, it paid out £482 million through schedules 4 and 8. Does the Minister agree that, while the operating companies write the cheques, it is the state that pays?
Astonishing. Network Rail paying compensation means that this is coming from the public, so, in effect, passengers will be funding their own compensation for delayed and cancelled trains, for missing exams, for being sacked from their jobs or for lost business revenue—passengers paying their own compensation. How much has the Minister budgeted for to pay compensation for the Secretary of State’s decision to press ahead with this rail timetable chaos, or will he instead cut more Network Rail projects to pay for it?
(1 year, 7 months ago)Read Full debate
My hon. Friend makes the point so well—more chaos on our railways.
In the past 24 hours, hundreds of passengers have shared their experiences with me, including a relationship breaking down, trains so packed that people are standing for hours while paying more for their tickets, cancellations of trains for hours on end, and people leaving home at 5.30 in the morning to face a four or five-hour commute. One person had no choice but to walk home for four hours in the rain in the middle of their exams. There is lots of stress about getting to work on time and getting home to pick up the children, and lots of stress for those sitting exams and simply not knowing if they will get there on time.
A mother had to sing “Happy Birthday” to her child from Waterloo station because she would not make it home for their birthday.
We all know that the problem is much deeper rooted. Were Robert Adley alive today, he would have seen himself truly vindicated for his call to halt the Railways Act 1993, for he foresaw how fragmentation would eventually create complete chaos across the railways, as my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald), the shadow Transport Secretary, set out. Mr Adley dubbed that Bill the then Tory Government’s “poll tax on wheels”. The fate of the poll tax is a stark reminder of what happens when Governments continue to blame everyone but themselves and fail to listen to the public. The public now overwhelmingly call for the renationalisation of the railways, which Labour will deliver.
The failure of one part of the Secretary of State’s Department to talk to the other, with franchises promising one thing despite Network Rail not having the capacity to deliver on his promises, demonstrates that the buck stops with no one but the Secretary of State. No Government can sleepwalk their way through a crisis, and this weak and floundering Government most certainly cannot. To ignore the public, to ignore the industry and now to ignore Members of this House shows utter contempt, for which the public will not be forgiving—not least when people have lost their jobs, been unable to sit vital exams, or missed precious moments of family life. Passengers are exhausted from working very long days due to their uncertain commutes. Passengers are unable to plan. Passengers are unable to have any form of life as their short journeys have been replaced by waits at stations that are 10 times the length of their journeys.
It is clear that commuters are not just frustrated with this totally avoidable Government failure, but with their own MPs for not securing change at the top. Today, we all have the opportunity to make the necessary change. If it is not addressed today, it most certainly will be at the ballot box, and MPs who were silent today when they had the chance to act on behalf of their constituents will find that those constituents will vote accordingly come the next general election.
The problem is that all this rail chaos, which was well known in advance by the Secretary of State, was allowed to happen on his watch because he put his ideology of private interests ahead of public service, because he failed to co-ordinate franchises across the divides in his Department, because he did not intervene and stop the timetable changes when he had the chance to do so, and because he evidently has put himself and his career above passengers and theirs. He was warned time and again but failed to act.
This afternoon’s vote is simply about confidence. Voting against the motion or even sitting on your hands would not only highlight how hon. Members are complicit in the chaos that has ensued over the last few weeks, but show support for how the Secretary of State conducted his Department, his actions in the months preceding the introduction of the new timetable, and the way in which he has let the public down consistently over the last 30 days. Constituents who were late to work again this morning will want to know how their MP voted today—did they place their confidence in the Secretary of State, despite all that has happened, or were they willing to stand up for their constituents and vote for this motion? When constituents miss their family meal and time with their children tonight, will they look up to their MP for taking action through the first step of removing the heart of the problem—the Secretary of State—or will they remember that their MP, when given the opportunity to do something, sidestepped the issue?
Perhaps the Prime Minister will show her full support for the Secretary of State this afternoon by neither voting for the motion nor taking any action to replace the person at the heart of the crisis, thus tying her own leadership to this national public disaster, or perhaps she will start to distance herself from all that has happened and find someone who can respond to this crisis. Surely she cannot continue to back a Secretary of State who has not only failed rail passengers but will continue to preside over the chaos that, as we have heard, he will unable to resolve for weeks if not months. Anyone who understands the need to make a fresh start after a public disaster knows that they need to deal with those responsible, which in this case means pulling Northern and GTR back into public ownership with immediate effect. The public will not forget how the avoidable rail chaos was woefully responded to.
There is one more issue that I want to raise: public safety. Even as we speak, public safety is being put at risk. We heard the Secretary of State take a swipe at the unions—he always does—but they represent the very people who work relentlessly across the network and, in particular, have kept passengers safe over the past few weeks. They have taken action today because they fear for public safety as guards are removed from trains. They are right to do so. If anything makes the case for guards on trains, it is the experiences of the last month. The guards are the very people who help the public in times of need. Labour will never put ideology above safety, let alone public service.
There is another public service issue on which the Secretary of State is failing. In this chaos, I have heard reports of stations crammed with passengers and trains crammed with people. Those people are fortunate to get on board—disabled people have been left stranded at stations because they cannot push their way on to trains. This is a seriously unsafe situation. The country must remember above all that national disasters have occurred when people have been squeezed into spaces that are too tight to hold them. When they are not just standing for hours on their commute but physically restrained on trains, it is easy to imagine how someone could fall on the tracks or fall ill on a train, especially in this heat. If nothing more, all hon. and right hon. Members should vote with Labour to put down a clear marker that they urge the Government to address this very serious issue. The choice today is to stand up for passengers, or to stand up for the Secretary of State and his failure on the railways. I trust that I will see hon. Members from both sides of the House in the Aye Lobby shortly.
(1 year, 7 months ago)Read Full debate
Can the Minister set out exactly who he means by “the rail industry”? Clearly, we are talking about Network Rail, which is culpable for some of the issues, as well as the Department for Transport and the operators themselves.
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Will the Minister set out a timetable for that? I think passengers have a real interest in knowing what timetable that scrutiny will cover.
(1 year, 8 months ago)Read Full debate
I can make it absolutely clear to the hon. Gentleman that the French railway system and the German railway system have trains in national ownership, not only in their country, but in our country, too.
Right across the country, it is crystal clear that this Government’s transport policies daily fail the public. They charge more and more for the public to use the trains while signing dodgy deals to enable private companies and even foreign Governments to suck money out of our railways; and they waste money on livery and uniforms, as we have heard in today’s debate. I must put on record that it is the staff who are at the heart of the constant change, and we thank them for their endurance through this process.
Labour would put that money back into our trains, back into upgrades, back into building our public services and therefore back into our economy. Today’s debate has clearly demonstrated that the Secretary of State has completely failed this nation and has completely failed our railways. It is time for a new Secretary of State, and my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) is ready to take our rail back and get our nation back on track. Labour will rescue and generate our rail service once again.
(1 year, 9 months ago)Read Full debate
The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority was constituted in 2017, and has responsibility for some transport functions. However, it is these regulations which need to determine how these functions will be paid for.
As two upper-tier authorities are involved—Cambridgeshire County Council and Peterborough Council—the regulations seek to levy revenue from these in the proportion of the previous year’s spend for the subsequent year. This sum will then be adjusted for the following financial year based on actual spend. The funding can be drawn from council tax or Government grants, while they exist.
There are a couple of issues that strike Labour concerning these arrangements. First, there should be a strategic transport plan which sets out a detailed plan for the Combined Authority. This should be budgeted and should articulate where year-on-year spend should occur. This could be significantly different from the approach being taken where there are assumptions of equivalence to previous activity. The proposed process risks reinforcing a previous year’s pattern of expenditure, and/or could result in an end-of-year readjustment where one council will owe, possibly a significant resource, to the other council. This does not appear to be a sensible or logical mechanism through which to determine expenditure, and will increase administration at the end of each year and possibly have a significant impact on other budgets.
Could the Minister say why the combined authorities do not just create a strategic plan, budget for such a plan and then determine the year-on-year levy from each local authority on the basis of that plan? While there may still be need for minor adjustments at the end of the financial year, it would result in less significant variances, and be more in tune with real-time, actual expenditure.
Secondly, it seems that the way transport devolution is being determined is leading to further fragmentation of the transport system, not least the absence of a guiding mind over the transport system. Areas of the country now have a complete spectrum of different powers, if any, and mechanisms for funding them. This is not only creating much confusion but is not lending to an improved transport system. When will the Minister bring forward a strategic plan for the transport system, which is long overdue?
Labour believes that transport demands long-term plans, good governance requires full budgeting processes, and the people of our country need to have greater certainty as to where their taxes are being spent. Labour will not be dividing the House over these regulations, but does want the Minister to respond to the concerns raised in this debate.
(1 year, 9 months ago)Read Full debate
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. Today’s statutory instrument is an important step in the devolution plan for our railways, as we see powers and responsibilities shift from Westminster to Wales. The Welsh Labour Government are already undertaking plans to design and let the new Wales and Borders rail franchise from this October, as well as to develop ambitious plans for the metro. Although devolution will feature heavily in Labour’s future plans for our rail service, we are absolutely clear that we will also bring rail operations back under public ownership and integrate them with wider infrastructure, improving efficiencies and the effectiveness of our major transport network. We will ensure that rail is run co-operatively and collaboratively alongside devolution, to enable the best of localism, while ensuring a consistent approach across the rail network, and that all revenue returns to the state, not the bank accounts of shareholders.
This statutory instrument, therefore, paves the way for the Welsh Government to build a world-class transport system in Wales for the people of Wales—one that is focused on regrowing the Welsh economy and serving Welsh communities. With 32 million journeys undertaken currently, growth until 2030 is forecast to be 74%, so this next phase highlights how important it is that rail policy is designed in a fully integrated way, with spatial and economic planning, and is fully integrated into the wider transport system in Wales.
Wales will embed the values and ethos of public service in the next iteration of its rail system. It will ensure that high standards improve services to passengers, and it will focus on reinvestment into the service rather than private profit. However, there are issues that we want the Minister to address. It is of huge frustration that he, in Whitehall, will not provide the real powers that Wales has called for, but instead has hidden behind the Railways Act 1993 to disallow Wales from having a public sector provider to run its rail service and to restrict it to tendering the service to private operators.
Whitehall’s continual grip on decisions of this nature does not demonstrate a Government wanting to support the ambitions of the people of Wales, nor does it enable the Welsh Government to run their rail service in the most efficient and effective way. It binds them to the failed philosophy that results in private companies continuing to derive profit out of passengers, while passengers pay more for their services.
The Welsh Labour Government have lobbied the UK Government for greater devolution of transport powers—for instance, to deliver a change to legislation to allow public sector bodies to act as franchisees and to place us on a similar footing to Scotland. The UK Government have continued to oppose that and other legal restrictions, meaning that the Welsh Government cannot bar for-profit operators from coming forward to run some elements, at a time when Labour Wales wants to show more ambition for the people it represents.
The restraints are not stopping the Welsh Labour Government acting creatively. Transport for Wales has been created as a not-for-profit company initially tasked with supporting the Welsh Government to design and let the next franchise and metro. Once the franchise has been let, it is expected that Transport for Wales will oversee the management and joining up of services, including items such as marketing and integrated ticketing.
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I am grateful to the Minister for that answer, but does he agree that it will not provide equivalence to electrification on that part of the network?
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I am grateful to the Minister for giving way one more time. Will he acknowledge that the devolution deal in place here is less than the deal with Scotland? Can he explain why it is that the Welsh Government will not have full power over the future of its economy as well as serving the passengers of Wales?
(1 year, 9 months ago)Read Full debate
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward, for this excellent debate. I thank the hon. Member for Witney (Robert Courts), who gave an excellent presentation. I have read his vision for the Cotswold line in his response to the GWR franchise consultation, in which he set out a coherent vision for his constituents. I also thank the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston), although I contest his claim that Mid Worcestershire is the best place to live—I would certainly put York on the map. I would welcome him to York, which has really good rail connectivity. The hon. Gentleman highlighted incredibly well the situation for his constituents, and it was good to hear about the reopening of the link between Cheltenham and Broadway, with the opportunities that that will bring.
On the future franchise model for GWR, I must first stress that we cannot afford to see greater fragmentation of the railways. The hon. Member for Witney talked about consistency across the south-west and Oxfordshire area, making a sound case for what Labour believes is the way forward, which is one railway. He has said:
“I would instinctively prefer to keep the franchise as one…Having one, integrated, coherent service in coherent regional groupings is preferable…to have greater vision for the system as a whole, have greater economies of scale and have resilience in challenging circumstances. Secondly, it is preferable for passengers, as they have one coordinated service with one simplified fare structure and the same standard of service.”
I could not have said it better myself—the same standards, one ticketing methodology and greater co-ordination. We want to see that in the public sector, which is perhaps where we differ on such matters, but we certainly agree with the sentiment that we want the railway system to come together after fragmentation and the pain that that has brought.
Indeed, the Government recognised some of those strengths on pages 23 and 24 of the consultation document on the future of the Great Western rail franchise. The document calls for the franchise to be extended by a further 12 months and then, following discussions, a further two years—another example of a direct award, an extension of a franchise, again demonstrating that the franchising system is simply not working.
We would also strongly make the case that transport cannot be seen in silos. First, on active travel, as a cyclist I concur with the remarks made by the hon. Member for Witney—it is crucial that we look at how people access our transport system through cycling and walking. Some of the developments in cycling, in particular in the Netherlands, have been inspirational. When the Dutch talk about multi-storey buildings at railway stations, they are talking about bike parks, not car parks. We have much to learn from other European countries about the progress they have made in achieving a modal shift.
We also need to ensure connectivity with the bus network and other forms of transport. For passengers, a journey does not take place in a silo; it starts at their front door and ends at their destination. We must see seamless transport moving through, ensuring that options are available to the passenger, so that we see the modal shift off the roads and on to more suitable public forms of transport.
Why? We believe that investment in a fully co-ordinated transport infrastructure is, first and foremost, essential for the environment—something that barely got a mention in the franchise document, only two small paragraphs. I want to see the Government put more emphasis on the environmental necessity of having a secure public transport system. Investment can also address issues such as congestion which, whether it is on the A40 or the A64 just outside my constituency, exists on our road network across the country. We need to see modal shift for those reasons, and we know that would be better for business and for the economy, and to enhance quality of life.
In fact, we would say that road building in future should be the last resort, not the first. For example, when looking at parking capacity, we need to look first at the public transport alternatives to bring about the modal shift, so we can ensure that public transport solutions are trialled first and foremost. That means having discussions with current bus franchise holders. We also believe that determining some bus routes to support the rail network is vital.
Talking about connectivity, I remember when I used to travel between Norwich, where I was living, and Cambridge for a while. I had 59 minutes to wait at Ely station, and that kind of connectivity is incredibly frustrating. We need to ensure good connectivity on our rail system. That is essential if we are to motivate people to use that form of transport. We believe that discussions about bringing track and train—wheel and steel—together is vital to ensure good co-ordination throughout the network.
We also need effective bus services, as I said, particularly in rural communities, which are not well served by buses across the board. We need to see a shift there. We also need to ensure that running times for public transport, as the hon. Gentleman said, whether train or bus, match what the commuter and the wider passenger require, as opposed to what is most convenient or profitable. We need to see that as a public service, extending late, weekend and early running to fit in with the patterns of the economy and people’s lives.
Connectivity on branch lines should also be at the forefront. With my medical background, I always use the analogy with the blood system—the arteries carry the main flow of blood, but it is through the capillaries we see the gas exchange. That is, passengers coming on to the network and feeding into the main systems. If we are to realise the capacity of the railways, we need to ensure that we release that capacity by enhancing the branch lines and the feeder networks of different modes of transport.
When assessing future demand and opportunity, we believe that that should begin now. I call on the Minister to do just that, to see whether the Cotswold scheme and other schemes provide that compelling case that has been presented to us today. I therefore ask for clearer understanding of the Department for Transport’s methodology for making such assessments. Perhaps it would be good if all Members were written to, because I am sure that many across the House have compelling cases for improvements to their public transport networks. A copy might even be placed in the House of Commons Library so that people can make that assessment of how to improve transport and connectivity in their constituency and through further discussions with, obviously, Network Rail and other railway bodies.
I heard loud and clear the hon. Members for Witney and for Mid Worcestershire make the case for the redoubling of track. It seems to me that there is a real opportunity here—in particular in the light of the opening remarks by the hon. Member for Witney, when he talked about the increased demand on the railways—so we should have a close look at that. We want to see demand go up, but we want to match that with good transportation links to ensure it is possible.
Where possible, Labour also believes that we have a real opportunity to look at issues such as reversing Beeching closures or at new proposals, perhaps even seeing profitability coming out of that. There is a real future for investment in the railways, and we now need to work with Members across the House to ensure that we get the decisions right. We cannot talk only about high-speed rail; we must also talk about the branch lines, which are of equal if not more importance, so we can see a real shift in how we travel.
We need better connectivity, greater frequency, better timetabling and improved accessibility—we believe it is crucial to ensure that all disabled people have access to the network. It is unacceptable that disabled people often have to travel long distances by road in order to access the railway. I believe that more could be done by the Government to improve accessibility for all passengers, upgrading stations accordingly.
We also need to see electrification of the railway network. That is crucial as we move forward. It is greener, cleaner and what is being demanded. There are also new technologies, such as batteries and hydrogen, so we need to see that investment. The Minister has put forward the ambition that by 2040 there will be no further investment in diesel; I would like to see more ambition from the Government in this area, perhaps to drive innovation by scientists, to see what advances they can make, and to put that innovation at the heart of our economy and growth.
We want to ensure that the passenger experience is enhanced. We are talking about modern facilities for passengers—dependable wi-fi and sockets on trains, which are basics that commuters expect today. We also want to ensure that there is good communication with passengers, and to look at how we can use apps more so that passengers can be kept up to date with intermodal transport forms. We need to have two forms of communication because not everybody uses a phone, but there is real opportunity in the power of technology to communicate far better with the great British travelling public.
We have all seen the real power of the Oyster card. From the regions, we look on with envy because we know the real success that that has brought across different modes of transport. But that should not be the preserve of just London passengers—it should spread across the country. I call on the Minister to update us on the work that the Government are doing in that area, and to look at smart technology. It is crucial that we take that leap forward as we have those opportunities, not least because passengers demand that from the Government.
We must address the issue that the hon. Member for Witney made very clear from his meeting with his constituents, about passengers’ frustration about paying more and seeing a decrease in the levels of service on the railways. We need more transparency in ticketing. It is the No. 1 issue—everyone thinks they are being diddled out of a decent price on the railway. People go on the internet and they do not know if they have the best deal—perhaps if they had logged on half an hour ago or in half an hour’s time, they might get a better deal. We need transparency—people want to know where they are. Could the Minister tell us the work that the Government are doing on that? The public demands it.
The hon. Member for Witney rightly reminded us of the importance of safety on the rail network. It must be the No. 1 priority. He talked about his constituent Ms Evans who lost her life at a crossing. It is vital that we look not just at safety on the track but the wider infrastructure. No one should lose their lives on our rail network. At places such as level crossings, there is more access to the line, and that creates a risk. I would be interested in hearing an update from the Minister on exactly what is being done to reduce risk on the rail network.
In reading the hon. Gentleman’s submission, I picked up on some of his constituents’ frustration at being fined because they cannot get tickets out of the ticket machine. That is an injustice—people who in good faith have tried to travel on the network should not be penalised. It would be helpful if the Minister could explain how he would approach that issue, to ensure that there are not barriers to people having confidence when travelling on the rail network.
I will come on to the issue of stations, if I may. It is good to hear about the developments coming for two stations, but stations should be seen as a community asset. They are somewhere warm and dry, a place to wait where passengers can sit—often, it is difficult to find seating at stations these days—but also to read and work, have access to toilets, get a drink and meet basic needs. We need stations to provide that facility, but also be a community asset in welcoming people to a community. They are the gateway to a local economy. They are there for residents and visitors, as well as businesses. Although we have seen the hard commercial aspect of stations in recent times, we must think about the community value as we move forward, perhaps to marry up both those agendas and to enhance a facility for the local community at stations. A lot more work can be done on stations.
Finally, I congratulate the hon. Member for Witney on bringing forward this debate. It opened up a number of issues. The speeches from him and from the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire have been exemplary. I believe in their quest to move the railways forward in their constituencies. It is important that we look at how we move the rail service across the country. When a Labour Government are elected at the next general election, we will prioritise an integrated transport system that serves the passengers at its heart.
Will the Minister update the House on progress on smart ticketing? I am sure all passengers are interested in that.
(1 year, 10 months ago)Read Full debate
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. That point came out strongly in one of the submissions to the consultation, talking about things such as the management of football fans and ensuring that that is done through co-ordination between Scotland and England. It is important that we see that integration continue.
Coming back to issues of expertise, the British Transport Police Federation chairman, Nigel Goodband, said:
“Given the recent terrorist attacks in Manchester and London, and the ongoing and significant threat from terrorism, I am writing to you as a matter of urgency to implore you to suspend the Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill.”
Here we have somebody in a lead position of expertise imploring the Scottish Government to put this proposal, as it is presented today, on ice, who is backed by the trade unions, the police and Labour.
We need to ensure greater alignment and good collaboration—I think everybody in this debate would agree with that—but we must remember that policing is needed across borders too. Rail does not respect borders, and neither does crime. If this is about keeping the public safe, we need to ensure that we have good communications between station staff and police throughout the network and on board the trains. We cannot afford to lose or regress on the skills that have been developed over time. We are talking about 284 staff and officers who have gained those skills over numerous years and built up a specialism.
We must respect specialism in the police, but many issues are now pulling that expertise away from the service. Many people say they will leave—I believe it is 16% of experienced officers and staff—with 14% going elsewhere in the British Transport police and 22% uncertain over the future. They are uncertain because there is no clarity on pensions and terms and conditions. We are talking about not only existing staff, but the future workforce, who have not been referred to in the debate.
I welcome Audit Scotland’s reviewing the debacle that this has turned out to be, but I also press it on the Minister today that we should see a pause in the laying of orders before the House and ensure that the work goes back to the scoping phase, to reflect properly on the responses to the consultation, which reject the SNP’s proposals, and instead to put forward a sensible model of greater alignment and collaboration as we move forward, thereby ensuring that public safety is put first.
(1 year, 10 months ago)Read Full debate
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) for opening the debate. She made an excellent point about how central transport spending is to productivity and the wider economy—purpose, people and place, as we heard from the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes).
It is right to say that 2017-18 has raised many questions about the governance of public resources. Questions asked in numerous National Audit Office and Public Accounts Committee reports have highlighted the Government’s failed stewardship of our transport system, as has also been highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins). While passengers have paid and paid again into the leaky finance pot, the failed leadership has ricocheted across industry, which has had to respond to frequent announcement of U-turns by turning on and off skills, on and off orders, changes to specs, cancellations and delays.
The Government have made a complete mockery of control periods on the railways and road investment strategies on the roads—processes that were designed to bring certainty have, in the hands of this Government, turned into chaos, and at a price. Only last week the Public Accounts Committee highlighted the numerous mistakes by the Department for Transport in its management of the Thameslink renewal programme. The Committee’s report was littered with examples of “careless mistakes”. Poor planning is systemic, and that is something I will return to.
Paragraph 2.12 of the “Memorandum on the Supplementary Estimate 2017-18” states that there was an increase of £65.7 million in the cost of the intercity express programme, attributed to “depot costs and contract variations.” That is bound to happen when the Government cannot decide what trains they want to run and keep cancelling rail infrastructure upgrades. Can the Minister tell us what impact these contract variations on the intercity express programme had on the east coast rail franchise? When were they due to come on line? What were the obligations promised under the franchise to the train operator? How were they communicated to Network Rail? We need answers. A parliamentary question on 20 February revealed that two variations in the IEP contract have taken place since 2012, with the last in June 2015. Why has it taken nearly three years for the costs of the variation to be included in the departmental budget?
This Government never fail to tell us how well the rail franchising system is working, but point 2.27 on page 15 of the memorandum states that the passenger rail income for this year is £248.6 million less than expected due to a decline in revenues received from train franchises including Thameslink, Southern and Greater Anglia. What is more, Her Majesty’s Treasury will pay an additional £60 million to cover the shortfall. It is yet another magic money tree—just wait until those leaves fall on the line, or should I say in the pockets of shareholders?
The Government caused the problems on Southern rail by refusing to take responsibility for the specifications included in its contract, leaving the hapless Govia Thameslink Railway to do the dirty work. Its approach to industrial relations has caused misery to millions of passengers and staff—staff rightly making the case for the safety of passengers. I say “rightly” because the number of assaults on our trains is rising. This fall in revenues follows the Government’s multi-billion pound bail-out of Virgin-Stagecoach on the east coast and a sweetheart deal for the same companies on the west coast. We want the Government to come clean as to how much this will show up on the balance sheet. The public have a right to know.
Since 2012, the Department has granted 13 direct awards because it does not have the resources to refranchise or the courage to take the contracts into public ownership. Why should the public continue to bail out a broken franchising system? Again, the public deserve to know.
Page 20 of the memorandum tells us that Network Rail paid train companies compensation to the tune of £339.4 million in control period 4. This is a disgraceful leakage of money from the rail system that could be used to fund infrastructure upgrades. This leakage is seen in the cuts to the electrification programme and rail upgrades announced by the Department last summer. My hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) has highlighted that the Department has wasted £50 million on the midland main line planning. People, including my constituents in York Central, want answers as to where the money is going.
We have heard from Members right across the House, including my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins), about the inequality of spending. My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) called for investment in railways across the country. I look forward to the Minister’s statement tomorrow as the strategy on the peninsula rail taskforce is published.
This completely broken franchising system is managed by Whitehall’s third highest paid civil servant. However, since his appointment we have seen direct awards, franchise failures and a system in disarray. I note the £308 million of supplementary expenditure outlined in the memorandum, with no loci or accompanying strategy.
Turning to roads, we have also had the debacle of the untaxed road vehicles. The new system was promised to bring in £10 million a year. In fact, £107 million a year is being lost. It is a complete scandal, and incompetent stewardship has brought us to this point. I should mention road investment strategy 1. We have seen projects cancelled, 22 projects delayed and 19 enhancements pushed into the next control period—road investment strategy 2. We want to know what the Government are doing. Are they re-profiling RIS 2? Are they providing wider support for some of those Carillion contracts? As we have heard from the Treasury, £150 million has been put aside. Will the DfT be liable to pay out some of that? Time and again, the public are bailing out private failure.
I also want to mention the cancellation of the £250 million lorry park near Folkestone to ease Operation Stack congestion on the M20. It was cancelled because an environmental impact assessment was not done. That is more than just a careless mistake: it is a costly one, as the Government drive us off the white cliffs with their Brexit strategy.
Bus journeys have decreased by 1.7% and funding has been cut by 33% since 2010, and by nearly £30 million in just the last year. Meanwhile, fares have risen 13% above inflation since the Conservatives came to office. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) highlighted the impact of that and I thank her for her work on the Transport Committee.
Then there is community transport. Most Members, including my hon. Friends the Members for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) and for Preston (Sir Mark Hendrick), mentioned the licensing consultation, and I trust that the Government will take heed. My hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) talked about the need for a modal shift on to active travel.
Finally, I must mention the millennial railcard: kept a secret from those who had to pay for it, and now the train operating companies are on strike. How much will the Department have to fork out to honour this announcement? Such poor stewardship of our constituents’ money—money just pouring into private profit at the expense of taxpayers! That is why the public support Labour’s plans for a publicly owned railway, buses under councils’ control and a plan to serve them, their communities and our country.
(2 years ago)Read Full debate
Fares, franchises and failure, all entwined: that is how my hon. Friends have summarised the issues that dominate passengers’ experience of the railways today. My hon. Friends the Members for Lincoln (Ms Lee), for Wigan (Lisa Nandy), for Newport East (Jessica Morden), for High Peak (Ruth George) and for Bedford (Mohammad Yasin) really brought to the fore the impact that this is having.
The rail sector is full of fantastic people, but it is distracted from its core function of providing passengers with affordable access to a fully integrated system—train and track, wheel and steel—that works across the entire network and enables seamless intermodal travel. While the Secretary of State is firmly at the faultline, defending a broken system that he has made far more centralist in its control than even Labour’s national rail service will be, it is passengers who have to straddle the cracks, continually having to pay, and pay again, for the basic purpose of going to work or having a day out with the family, and as we have heard, they pay for poor performance, as my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones) set out.
It is not just Labour Members who are increasingly highlighting the failure of the Government; the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) also spoke of problems with franchising. “Putting passengers at the heart of the rail service” should be the Government’s mantra, but sadly it is not. Research by Transport Focus, the official voice of the travelling public, found in the largest survey of its kind that failure on ticketing is the No. 1 issue for passengers. The issue is not only the 32% rise in fares since 2010—three times the rise in wages, as my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) said—the 3.4% increase on last year’s ticket prices and the 3.6% increase for season ticket holders; everyone believes that they are being diddled out of a fair price—and they are right. There is different pricing depending on which operator runs the service, what time a person logs on to book their ticket, and when and at what time of day their journey is.
When this is coupled with extortionate ticket price increases, passengers ask where their hard-earned cash is going—and it is a good question. Let me tell them: £725 million went straight into the pockets of shareholders. While Thomas might be under the Fat Controller’s orders, today passengers are most certainly under those of the fat cats. It is a great train robbery. Then there is the financial haemorrhage from multiple tiers of private subcontractors across the network, each taking their cut, and the exorbitant cost of leasing trains and the huge profits harvested there. Fragmentation brings additional costs, too. But this scandal pales into insignificance when passengers consider that when Richard Branson’s Virgin Group gets into a bit of a pickle, it goes cap in hand to the Secretary of State, and makes demands of him. Just look at how quickly the Secretary of State buckled on this—a point made eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle), joined by my hon. Friends the Members for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), for Keighley (John Grogan), for Bradford South (Judith Cummins), for Blaydon (Liz Twist), and for Glasgow North East (Mr Sweeney).
The Department for Transport, under the Secretary of State’s orders, set up a franchise on the east coast that would involve Network Rail in delivering infrastructure upgrades, but due to the Government’s failed control period 5 process and the scaling down of the infrastructure upgrades, Network Rail was unable to deliver. The Government did not even speak to Network Rail about this when touting for an operator who would rip the service out of public hands—which, by the way, put £1 billion into the Treasury, to be reinvested in public transport. No, they just blindly put out a contract that was undeliverable, and the Government need to understand that it is their responsibility; they let the franchise. VTEC said it could not reap the gains it was hoping to under the infrastructure improvements, and guess what it did? It went to the Government to put the pressure on and now has been let off £2 billion, and the Secretary of State will not come to the Dispatch Box to deny this fact. It is a complete and utter shambles, as are so many other services; we have heard today from my hon. Friends the Members for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) and for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) about the impact these services are having on their communities.
So not only are the passengers paying for this now, but they are also having to prop up dodgy deals. And they are dodgy deals: we just need to look at the way these train operators are working their way through the system to get as much money as possible not just out of ticketing, but also by threatening to sue the Government and seeking compensation payments. It is a complete scandal.
The problems are clear: a failed, fragmented franchise system; private profits over passenger interest, with a resultant decline in patronage, as we are now seeing; and a Secretary of State who refuses to put the passengers’ interests at the heart of the railway. That is why Labour will introduce a new public railway owned by the public and working for the public. This is not about going back, as we will not revisit the models of railways past, but take us forward—and not just take our rail services forward, but our economy too.
Drawing on global best practice, Labour’s rail system will really be for the many and not the few—fares overhauled; smart ticketing; new lines opening; more capacity; more seats; more trains; embracing high-tech and digital rail; making space for freight and smart logistics; clean and green with electrification, not a return to dirty diesel; planning for the long term; and no more on-off, start-stop funding. The whole railway system will be working as one, with passengers and businesses knowing the deal and being at the heart of the deal, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) has called for for Wales—and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East has said he does not want to see the fragmentation reintroduced now by the Scottish Government.
As my hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden) and for Ipswich (Sandy Martin) said, we must make our railways safe, and we will make them safe and accessible by ending the scrapping of the guards—a resolve the trade unions are calling for today—so that disabled people can have their dignity restored in using rail, while women can feel safe on trains both day and night. This is the rail service that the British people are demanding, and it will take a Labour Government to deliver it.
Before I sit down, may I welcome the new Transport Minister to his place, and hope that he does not take to defending the indefensible in his new role, as he sought to in his previous role earlier this week? We have a transport crisis and we need this Government to do something about it or, better still, make way for a Government who will.