Rail Franchising

Part of NHS Winter Crisis – in the House of Commons at 5:48 pm on 10th January 2018.

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Photo of Lisa Nandy Lisa Nandy Labour, Wigan 5:48 pm, 10th January 2018

My hon. Friend is right, because in a town like mine, which is typical of many around the country, people commute into nearby cities for work—Manchester is my nearby city, so I am familiar with it. Two thirds of my constituents commute out of the borough for work every day. For our town, the economic interest is enormous, because when they return to Wigan they spend in our local shops and businesses, sustaining our high streets and our local pubs. He will know as well as I do that towns across this country are ageing. The Centre for Towns research we launched last year showed that towns lost 25 million people under the age of 25 over the past 30 years, so public transport is the artery that keeps the heart beating in towns like mine. It has always been thus—towns such as Manchester and Birmingham grew and thrived because of the development of the railways, which enabled them to trade with one another. So how is it that 200 years later a report from the Institute for Public Policy Research finds that it takes longer to get from Liverpool to Hull than it does to get from London to Paris?

I will give the Minister one example of why these decisions, which are being made hundreds of miles away from the people who are affected, are broken. In 2015, the Department for Transport awarded the northern rail franchise to Arriva and, as part of that deal, which we were told would give us a better service, the decision was taken to axe the direct service from Southport through Wigan and into Manchester Piccadilly. Two thirds of people who commute from Wigan to Manchester commute to the south side of the city, but they were breezily told by their Government that instead they could commute into the north side of the city and arrive at work mid-morning. If they had been consulted at all, they would have told the Secretary of State why that was a problem. It has taken five MPs from three political parties two years of hard work to try to persuade the Government to sort this out, and we still have not managed to resolve it. No wonder four and a half times more people commute by train in London as a proportion of the population than in my region of the north-west. Decisions are made hundreds of miles away from the people who are affected, with no understanding and no thought given to the reality of their daily lives. I say to the Minister, who is not paying attention at the moment, that he will soon have to pay attention because the level of anger that this is creating across this country is immense.

The data analyst Tom Forth pointed out recently that for a scheme to be funded in Leeds, it needs to provide twice the return on investment of a scheme in London. How can that be sustainable? I just say this to the Minister: if we had been given the power to make these decisions for ourselves, we would have made very different decisions in recent years. We would have prioritised local services and connecting up our great regional cities before we started investing in High Speed 2. We would never have got into a situation where we were faced with losing the guard on the train. I will tell him what that will do: it will make our railways no-go areas for many people, including women late at night, people with disabilities and older people, who make up the bulk of my constituents.

We would talk far more about buses. In my constituency, it is now often cheaper for a family to get a taxi than a bus—how is that sustainable? The Secretary of State was very fond a few years ago of the phrase “take back control”. If he means anything at all by his word, he will give us back control, because we could hardly do worse than this Government.