National Rail Academy

Oral Answers to Questions — Transport – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 13th May 2003.

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Photo of Eric Martlew Eric Martlew Labour, Carlisle 11:30 am, 13th May 2003

What progress is being made towards the establishment of a National Rail Academy.

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Minister of State (Department for Transport)

I am pleased to report that the National Rail Academy was formally established on 1 April. Its aim is to provide a cost-effective means of ensuring that the rail industry has the right people with the right skills at the right time.

Photo of Eric Martlew Eric Martlew Labour, Carlisle

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for the announcement, having pushed for the National Rail Academy for more than five years. My worry is that it will be a virtual academy and that virtually no training will take place. We need a chief executive, and we need a headquarters. What progress has been made?

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Minister of State (Department for Transport)

As my hon. Friend probably expects, the Strategic Rail Authority has, since the announcement, been approached by a large number of organisations about where the academy should be located and what it should do. The SRA will consider those views to establish what the industry needs and is prepared to support before it chooses the route forward. The idea is that the academy will be not a single, bricks-and-mortar establishment, but a strategic co-ordinating facility that is able to develop new and existing training facilities around the country as it works with the industry. I take the point, which my hon. Friend has made to me personally, that when it is decided where to locate the core centre, we should seriously consider the claims of Carlisle, which he and others have advanced, given its long record of service to the railway industry.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

Given that it is now 14 months since the then Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, Mr. Byers, talked about the allocation of funds to the academy, can the Minister at least tell the House what he expects the public expenditure cost of the academy to be in this financial year?

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Minister of State (Department for Transport)

That is a matter for the Strategic Rail Authority, which will be working with the industry—the train operating companies, Network Rail—and the contracting companies that work with the industry. As I said, the key role of the rail academy is to act as a co-ordinating organisation. That role may develop, especially in identifying skills shortages in the industry. The concept of the academy is to work with the industry, co-ordinating training that is already being undertaken, and also to look at the skills shortages. I remind the hon. Gentleman that, as a result of his party's privatisation programme and the way in which it was implemented by the train operators, we had substantial redundancies among a number of skills, not least in signalling and train driving, which led to the shortage that has created considerable problems for the industry. The rail academy will be addressing that.