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Confidence in the Secretary of State for Transport

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:49 pm on 19th June 2018.

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Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Shadow Secretary of State for Transport 1:49 pm, 19th June 2018

I agree with those comments, and I will come on to that in a little while.

Franchise agreements assume ever-growing fare revenues, so the downturn in rail use increases the likelihood of more failed franchises and further taxpayer bail-outs. Fares have soared at three times the rate of wages since 2010, pricing passengers off the railway, while disruption encourages more people to revert to driving. That is exactly the wrong modal shift that we need our transport policy to achieve if it is to fulfil our environmental obligations and remove traffic and fumes from our towns and cities. Polling conducted by Which? found that three in five respondents affected by the timetable changes said that those changes had a negative impact on both their work and family life, with four in 10 saying that they had a negative impact on their health.

Considering the scale of the disruption, I am sure the whole House will agree that passengers must be adequately compensated. Yet at present 72% of those affected by the disruption said they had not been informed, either on the train or at the platform, about any compensation they may be entitled to receive. The Transport Secretary should have ensured passengers were made properly aware of the compensation they are owed. In addition, considering the scale of the disruption, a compensation package that goes above and beyond what is currently available must be delivered. The Transport Secretary has indicated some such package is being considered, but he has not provided detail. I ask him to do so today to ensure that the amount of compensation is commensurate with the scale of disruption and, importantly, that it is funded by the train companies, not taxpayers and passengers. They should pay voluntarily. If they refuse, he should make them.

It is important to step back and review the key steps in how we have come to this sorry state of affairs. This year’s timetable changes, introduced on 20 May, are the most extensive and ambitious undertaken in decades. More than 50% of the network schedules have been revamped. Four million trains have been retimed: about six times as many changes as is usual for a timetable change. It was clear before Christmas that there were going to be difficulties in implementing the new timetable. In February, the rail industry body, the Rail Delivery Group, confirmed it would not be able to complete timetables 12 weeks ahead of travel from 20 May for about six months. That should have set off alarm bells.

Since 20 May, 43% of Northern’s trains have been delayed or cancelled each day. From 4 June, the train operator cancelled 165 trains a day, including all services to the Lake district. In the first week of the new timetable, GTR delayed or cancelled a quarter of its trains and announced the schedule for the next day at 10 pm each night.

Today’s industrial action on Northern is a reminder of the utter despair felt by the rail industry’s workforce. Both Northern and GTR have waged war on their staff for three years and four years respectively. They have done so at the explicit behest of the Secretary of State for Transport and his senior officials.