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In his speech, the Secretary of State said: “Let us concentrate on the things that will make the difference for passengers”. Today’s National Audit Office report says, among many other damning things, that
“it is not clear whether the Department considered the…effects of its approach on passenger services.”
There have been warm words, but no action.
The National Audit Office report is damning. It reveals that the Thameslink Southern and Great Northern franchise has failed to deliver value for money. Over the past three years, Croydon commuters have suffered the worst service performance on the national rail network. There have been more than double the number of delays and cancellations than the national average, and the service has the lowest satisfaction rate for any rail operator, yet fares have risen twice as fast as salaries.
In the time available, I want to point out two particular scandals to which my constituents have been subjected by the Department for Transport and Govia Thameslink Railway. The first is the design of the franchise and the vicious circle of low investment and declining performance that it threatens. Govia Thameslink’s management contract hands a guaranteed £1 billion per year to the operator, while the taxpayer shoulders the risk of ticket sale revenues. We were promised a £3.5 billion profit from this huge franchise, but instead the loss to the public purse was over £90 million last year. Lee Rowley—he insulted us all, and then left—claimed that we do not understand economics, but there is no economic sense in that model.
The abysmal performance suffered by commuters in Croydon and the inflation-busting rises meant that passenger numbers dropped last year for the first time since the franchise was created. Passengers now pick up 70% of the rail network’s costs, meaning that if passengers continue to turn away from these shoddy, overpriced services, less money will be available to invest in desperately needed upgrades. That will lead to the cycle of lower investment and higher prices that we are already seeing.
Network Rail needs £1 billion to make Govia’s network fit for purpose. We must alter the track and sort out the Windmill Bridge junction in Croydon to stop the service from collapsing in the future. The Government claim—the Secretary of State pointed to this—that the £300 million put in place last year will go towards improving the network, but will the Minister confirm how much of that taxpayers’ money will actually go back to the coffers of Govia Thameslink in the form of fines for infrastructure failures?
My second point—I will make it briefly—is that while the Government have been shown what works, they refuse to act. The TfL-controlled London Overground has been turned from one of the country’s worst rail services into one of its best. What is more, the independent Gibb report, commissioned by the Secretary of State himself, recommended that Southern services, including some from Croydon, should be transferred to TfL as soon as possible. We need action, not just warm words.