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South-Eastern Rail Franchise

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:03 pm on 23rd April 2019.

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Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Transport) 5:03 pm, 23rd April 2019

So here we are again: a Transport Minister forced to the Dispatch Box to defend the actions—or, in this case, the lack of action—of the ever-failing Secretary of State. Following four delays on the south-eastern franchise, we now know that the Government are planning a direct award. After 12 other direct awards, including on south-eastern, is this approach being taken to avoid the embarrassment of failure further down the road? Two monopolies, Govia and Abellio, are left in the competition to run Britain’s most beleaguered franchise. Following a litany of failures under Govia, highlighted in Chris Gibb’s report two years ago, and a lacklustre response by the Secretary of State, who, frankly, should have brought the franchise under direct operation, the travelling public are being failed.

What discussions has the Minister had with the trade unions, as the hard-working staff face further uncertainty, not least over their jobs and pensions? Will he also confirm that there is no intention to cut pensions to staff through this franchise process? Are the Government going to stall on all franchises until the conclusion of the Williams review, which is undertaking a comprehensive look at why our rail system is floundering? If so, when will this report be published? In the light of revelations this weekend that sensitive confidential information was leaked from Stagecoach into the hands of Abellio during the east midlands process, what changes has the Minister made in his Department to ensure that commercially confidential information is not shared with competitors in this broken process? How are the Government measuring past failure of these rail monopolies? In the light of evidence, will he then rule out their bidding, as he has for other companies involved in other franchises?

With 176 million journeys being made each year, how can these passengers have any confidence that they will not pay the price for failure—something they have had to endure under the current award? They are paying some of the highest fares in exchange for one of the worst services, so it is clear that this franchising fiasco must end. If the Secretary of State will not take back control of our rail, Labour will.