East Midlands Rail Franchise

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:44 am on 11th April 2019.

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Photo of Andrew Jones Andrew Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport), Vice-Chair, Conservative Party 10:44 am, 11th April 2019

The hon. Gentleman asked a number of questions. Is the franchising system in disarray? Of course it is not. If we look at what has happened to our railways over the past 25 years, we see unprecedented passenger growth. We now have more people travelling on our railways and more services run on our railways, and at a greater level of safety than ever before. The franchising system has been a key ingredient in that delivery. Do I think the franchising system is over? Absolutely not. I think we need to look at how it will evolve in future, and that is what the Williams review is doing. Franchising has helped get the system from A to B, reversing years of decline. We now need to see what system we will have as we take it through to the next stage.

Stagecoach knew that its bid was non-compliant—it acknowledged that to the Department. The hon. Gentleman asked about litigation. The Government are completely confident that the bid was evaluated and decided fairly. It is business as usual in the awarding of a franchise on our rail network. He asked whether the decision on the east coast main line was payback. That question is absolute nonsense. This is an entirely separate matter. The bid was won on merit by the strongest bidder. It offered the best bid, with new trains and more services, including more Sunday services and more early and late services. It was won on merit. If a company chooses to bid non-compliantly, that is its fault.

With regard to passing the costs on to the private sector, that is also nonsense, because these are private sector pension schemes. The rail operating companies have a section of the rail pension scheme. Their trustees will meet the Pensions Regulator to discuss that. Is this a question of the Government seeking to remove responsibility? No, this is a private matter and the trustees will be dealing with that in their own way.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether I have met the trade unions. I have met the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers and ASLEF, and on this occasion I have written to them to highlight the award today.