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We will launch the formal consultation on proposals for the new Southeastern franchise in February. I hope that people across the franchise area will participate in it, enabling my Department and the team working within the franchise to make informed decisions about the specification for the next franchise, particularly regarding how we expand capacity for passengers.
Not only are my constituents of all political persuasions disgusted by the manner in which the Secretary of State has politicised this issue, but they have absolutely no confidence in his proposed solution for the Southeastern franchise. A previous attempt to merely involve Transport for London in the design of Southern’s 2009 to 2015 franchise failed because that did not involve its proven concession model for suburban rail services, so can the Secretary of State tell us why on earth he thinks that repeating this failed approach will deliver much-needed improvements for Southeastern passengers?
There has been no politicisation of this discussion. This decision was taken after the Mayor’s business plan was analysed across government, and after discussions with neighbouring authorities and people who know the route. The truth is that the Mayor’s proposals offered no extra capacity for passengers but a whole lot of uncosted, unfunded promises. They also involved a very substantial top-down reorganisation. The approach we have chosen is the same one that we have taken for Northern and in the midlands, which is to create a partnership to develop a franchise that will work for all passengers in Kent and south-east London to deliver the capacity that we need.
I support the Transport Secretary on that. My constituents in Kent are deeply concerned that, for too long, London has acted as a selfish city seeking to benefit itself at the expense of the people of Kent and the other home counties. It is not right for London to act like a “Hunger Games”-style capital seeking to subjugate the districts. We need fair rail services for Kent, Essex and the other home counties, and I urge the Secretary of State to carry on and to uphold his decision.
I assure my hon. Friend that I have every intention of doing so. This is a partnership arrangement that brings together London, Kent County Council and my Department to do the right thing for passengers. It is interesting that the Mayor could offer no proposals to expand capacity on these routes. I intend to bring forward proposals that do offer expanded capacity for passengers on those routes.
The Secretary of State’s leaked letter reveals that he reneged on the suburban rail agreement because of his obsession with keeping services “out of the clutches” of a potential Labour Mayor—those are his words. He has put party politics ahead of passengers and clearly prefers to see trains running late than running on time under Labour. Will he now agree to an independent assessment of the proposal by a respected figure outwith his Department, given yesterday’s revelations of conflicting commercial interests, to restore credibility to the process and ensure proper consideration of the needs of long-suffering passengers?
I cannot believe what I have just heard from the hon. Gentleman. He talks about putting party politics before passengers in the week when the Leader of the Opposition said that he would join a picket line to perpetuate the unnecessary strikes on Southern rail that are causing so much damage to passengers. I will not take the hon. Gentleman seriously until I hear him condemning those strikes and telling the workers to go back to work.