As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State told the House only yesterday, the private sector has generated almost £6 billion of private investment over the past decade, providing new trains, upgrading stations and transforming the passenger experience.
I share my hon. Friend’s concerns about the line; I often have to travel on it back to Blackpool myself. When I am in the east midlands, I am often struck by the fact that there is usually only a two-carriage train that is not always fit for the demand on that line. As he will know, the east midlands consultation is ongoing at the moment. We are carefully considering the responses, which include my hon. Friend’s. I am sure that we will see further improvements in the line as part of the bids that come forward.
I particularly welcome the document that came out yesterday and the point it makes about regional rail partnerships, which many experts agree are the answer for driving passenger satisfaction and value for money. They should be the first stage towards vertically integrated companies. Will the Minister confirm that that might be the final destination for those partnerships?
As the Secretary of State said yesterday, this is all about evolution rather than revolution. We have been aware since the time of the McNulty report of the attraction of bringing track and train together, and we need to make sure that such alliances work in the interests of passengers. The more that that occurs and the more we see the benefits of joint working, the more those benefits will develop across the entire rail network.
I welcome the publication yesterday of the invitation to tender for the South Eastern franchise. When the new franchise is let, I hope that we will see better services for my constituents in Faversham and Mid Kent.
I note that one part of the ITT is that there will no longer be a first class, in order to provide more space in trains and better travelling conditions. But constituents of mine with disabilities have told me that they use first class to make sure that they have a seat. What steps will my hon. Friend take to make sure that in future people with disabilities will be able to get a seat on busy trains?
That is a valuable point, although personally I do not believe that travellers should have to buy first-class tickets in order to be seated suitably. All train operating companies have an obligation to treat disabled passengers as fairly as possible, and I will reflect on how we can ensure that the aspect that my hon. Friend has identified is considered in the context of future franchises.