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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 Andrew Jones Andrew Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 5:03 pm, 23rd April 2019

I thank the hon. Lady for her questions. We are negotiating a short direct award to allow the competition to reach its end. This is not the end of franchising, which has been a significant ingredient in improving and turning around rail performance in this country. It has led to our having more services and passengers and at a greater level of safety than at any point in our country’s history. Franchising has been part of that success. This is an issue not of failure but of making sure that we get it correct.

Have I discussed the franchise bid with the trade unions? No, because the bids are assessed by officers of the Department for Transport, who anonymise them. It is important, market-sensitive information. Such information runs through a standard procedure, of which the hon. Lady should be aware; it operates in councils, in the Government and in devolved Assemblies, too. I have of course met the trade unions, and I was able to confirm with them that my aspirations for the rail industry include the careers of those who serve the industry. The Chair of the Transport Committee, Lilian Greenwood, asked about the same point in an urgent question just before the Easter recess. I do not want to see any cut to pensions; I want to see those who work on our rail services retire with secure and stable pensions. Nevertheless, we are talking about pensions from a private business, not something that comes from the Government.

The work on the Williams review is under way. I am sure the hon. Lady will have seen some of the evidence papers and heard about the emerging thinking that Mr Williams has discussed in some of the speeches he has made over the past few weeks. We look forward to seeing the output of that review. Franchising has been an ingredient in the turnaround of our rail industry that has been so fantastic for this country. The question now is how we take that to the next stage, which is what the Williams review is all about.