I have much sympathy with my hon. Friend's argument. Our proposal for franchising passenger services will permit the operator of a privately run train to make such crucial decisions about pricing in order to tap the market.
Our legislative policies, which we hope will receive Royal Assent next year, will open access so that private operators are encouraged to run new services and franchise existing services. Next year, BR may decide to withdraw the Cleethorpes service. I have no power to stop it doing so—that commercial judgment is its responsibility.
A private sector operator may consider the loading factors and find them depressing. However, it might believe that the service could be improved if the fare structure was altered, the service was better marketed and the times of the trains were changed. Any such timetable change, however, would have to be negotiated with BR. We propose a right of appeal to a regulator should it be impossible to reach agreement between the potential operator of any particular service and BR.
A new operator may consider introducing the changes I have described and may consider introducing on-board services such as providing coffee and a newspaper for every commuter from Great Grimsby. Many private sector operators want to change the quality of such services and the timing of the trains.
There is a lot to play for. I hope that the private sector will not be put off by the raw figures. I am sure that my hon. Friend will be interested to know that the cost of running the diesel through-train service is £1 million a year. That train travels in the morning from Cleethorpes to London—presumably it stays there for part of the day—and returns in the evening. That figure includes operation costs, which are exacerbated by the need to provide on-train door assistance at stations with short platforms, and cleaning facilities at Cleethorpes.
The extra revenue for the portion between Newark and Cleethorpes is some £300,000 a year. Therefore, British Rail calculates a saving of £700,000 by withdrawing the service, on the assumption that passengers will transfer to other British Rail services and use east coast main line service trains where additional capacity exists. So no extra cost is entailed in providing that service.
There is a prize for British Rail for improving profitability, but also an opportunity for the private sector. When my hon. Friend comes to see me next week with the hon. Member for Great Grimsby, I shall rehearse at greater length the exciting challenge for the private sector in franchising and operating services on British Rail. I cannot foresee whether that will mean that a private sector train will be able to provide through services if British Rail withdraws them. There are 12 months to go, but the Government certainly intend to open up those opportunities, and I hope that they will be grasped.