– in the House of Commons at 12:42 pm on 11th May 2023.
Before I call the Secretary of State to make his statement on transport, Mr Speaker has given a statement that he has repeatedly made it clear that the House should be told first when the Government are making any important announcements, and he is extremely disappointed that there has been extensive press coverage this morning about these developments.
Mr Deputy Speaker, that is a very helpful point for you to have made on behalf of Mr Speaker. As you know, I completely agree with that. [Interruption.] I can hear some chuntering from those on the Opposition Benches, but they should understand this. Once we notified FirstGroup of my decision, there was obviously market-sensitive information that it was obligated by law to disclose to the stock exchange as soon as the markets opened this morning and that meant the decision was in the public domain. We issued a press notice, but other than that no other information has been put into the public domain and I have therefore kept all of our remarks until the House was able to be updated. But in market-sensitive cases, I know that Mr Speaker will understand that certain things have to be disclosed to the outside world and cannot wait until they are notified to the House.
I start by thanking the entire transport industry and officials across Government for their professionalism and hard work over the last weekend. Tens of thousands of people travelled to Windsor and central London for the coronation of His Majesty King Charles III and Her Majesty Queen Camilla. Getting the public around efficiently and safely took months of planning and preparation, and special thanks must go to Great Western Railway for putting on additional services as well as Network Rail and South Western Railway, which facilitated the biggest movement of military personnel by the rail industry in more than 50 years for the coronation. It meant that people from across the UK and, indeed, around the world were able to unite in celebration during what was a truly historic moment.
In my most recent oral statement to the House, I made clear the Government’s commitment to deliver a railway that works for passengers, businesses and the taxpayer. Where services are not up to scratch, we are holding operators to account, and where there are systemic weaknesses in the industry, we are pushing ahead with reform. So I wish to update the House today on our progress, starting with the future operator of the TransPennine Express contract.
Since I took office, I have been clear that First TransPennine Express’s service levels have for too long been unacceptable. Passengers, including many hon. and right hon. Members across this House, have faced significant disruption, including regular cancellations and poor levels of communication. The underlying reasons behind this vary, but what is clear is that the twin challenges of covid and industrial action have left their mark. First TPE’s driver training backlog now stretches to nearly 4,000 days, which means that, at any one time, it can only draw upon 80% of its total driver workforce. Add to that a breakdown in relations between the operator and the driver union ASLEF, all told, there simply have not been enough drivers to run the planned timetable. Inevitably, passengers have borne the brunt, facing cancellation rates of up to 23% on Monday to Friday services and gaps in services on some routes of up to six hours. That clearly is not good enough, a point I have made directly with FirstGroup, which owns First TPE, and which the Rail Minister—the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my hon. Friend Huw Merriman—has made in weekly meetings with the Rail North Partnership, where Transport for the North jointly manages First TPE’s contract with the Department for Transport.
We will always hold operators to account for matters within their control. We will give them a chance to put things right, but despite a recovery plan put in place since February, there remain significant challenges underpinned by ASLEF’s distinct lack of co-operation. To achieve the performance levels I expect, passengers deserve and the northern economy needs, it is clear that both the contract and the underlying relationships must be reset. I have therefore decided not to renew or extend First TPE’s contract when it ends on
As Transport Secretary, my obligation, first and foremost, is to secure passenger rail services on which TPE passengers can rely. That requires a new approach, and one that the OLR is best placed to deliver in these circumstances. Most significantly, it provides an opportunity to reset relations between management and all stakeholders—from passengers to trade unions. I have also asked my officials to review services in the north to help drive efficiency and find better ways to deliver for passengers across the region, and I will ask all interested parties, including the northern Mayors and Transport for the North, to engage with the Government on this work.
While today’s decision will be welcomed by many and while it shows a Government alive to the concerns of passengers, as my hon. Friend the Rail Minister and I have made clear, it would be misguided for anyone to think this is an instant solution. The problems First TPE faced will not disappear overnight. Any operator facing industrial action and a union co-ordinated ban on overtime working will struggle to run a reliable service. So I invite those who have long called for today’s decision, including unions, northern Mayors and colleagues across the House, to work constructively with me and the Rail Minister to fix the underlying problems and help return the service levels to where they should be. The OLR is just the next stop on the line—it is not the terminus station—and once market conditions allow, we intend to subject this and indeed all contracts, both private sector and those under the OLR, to competitive tendering.
There will be some, unfortunately, who use today’s decision to further their ideological ends, and to argue that this justifies all rail contracts being brought under public control. That would be a mistake. The majority of taxpayers do not use the railways regularly, but they could be saddled with the huge costs of nationalisation, only to inherit the industry’s problems with no plan to fix them. Nationalisation is a soundbite, not a solution, and this Government will always be guided by the evidence to help make the best decisions for passengers. That is why, earlier this year, having seen the noticeable improvements on Avanti West Coast, I resisted calls to bring the franchise into public ownership. I extended Avanti’s contract by six months—a decision vindicated, with Avanti-caused cancellation rates at the end of March falling to 1.4% from 13.2% in January, and continuing to improve, despite ongoing challenges.
Let me now turn to industrial action. For months, the Rail Minister and I have worked hard to change the tone of the dispute, and help facilitate fair and reasonable pay offers for workers. In negotiations with train operating companies, the RMT and ASLEF are refusing to even put those pay offers to a vote of their members, despite RMT members who work for Network Rail voting overwhelmingly to accept a similar deal earlier this year. Instead, the RMT has balloted for yet more industrial action and, along with ASLEF, it has cynically called strikes that will cripple the network during the Eurovision song contest this week. We are hosting Eurovision because last year’s winner, Ukraine, cannot. It will be an event attended by displaced Ukrainians who have fled Putin’s war, and the House has just been hearing about that threat, so it beggars belief that unions have chosen to disrupt such an internationally symbolic event—one that not only presents a united front against Russia’s aggression, but shows solidarity with Ukraine’s resistance. So my message on behalf of fed-up passengers is to say to the union leaders, “Call off your strikes, put the fair and reasonable pay offers to a vote and give your members a say on their future.”
With or without the unions’ support, the industry must modernise to avoid permanent decline, and we are building unstoppable momentum towards rail reform, as I set out in my Bradshaw address in February. I have announced that Derby will be the location for Great British Railways’ new headquarters, and today I can report progress against the commitment I made to extend single leg pricing to the rest of the London North Eastern Railway network. Tickets will go on sale from
In conclusion, since becoming Transport Secretary, my approach has been to listen to the experts, weigh up the evidence and make decisions in the interests of the travelling public. Today’s announcements show a Government tuned in to the concerns of passengers in the north, unafraid to take tough decisions to deliver better services and relentlessly focused on modernising our railways while protecting passengers from the effects of industrial action. That is what the British people deserve, it is what we are delivering and I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement.
After years of comprehensive failure, after tens of millions in taxpayer cash has been handed to an operator so clearly not fit for purpose, after needless damage has been wrought on the northern economy and more than six months after Labour demanded it, the Tories have finally accepted that they can no longer defend the indefensible. They have seen the writing on the wall, and the only question passengers will be asking today is: what stopped the Secretary of State taking action sooner? How on earth did it take this long?
Let us just be clear about the failure that, until now, has been allowed to go on unchecked. This operator has broken records for cancellations. Almost one in five services last year did not run and fewer than half the services were on time. It has been an issue not just for the last few months, as Ministers claim, but for years. Seven years ago—well before covid—TransPennine Express had exactly the same staff shortages it suffers from today. It failed to address the issues that passengers are still experiencing. That it managed to keep this contract for so long, and to be told only months ago that it was in line for an eight-year extension, is extraordinary.
The difficult truth for the Secretary of State today is this: his decision shines an unforgiving light on the fractured railways his party is responsible for. This endless cycle of private operators having to be taken over shows the rail system is fundamentally broken. The comprehensive failure of TransPennine Express is not a bug in the system; it is a feature of it. Since the Conservatives came to office, the east coast franchise has collapsed and been taken over, Northern Rail followed, and then London and Southeastern. For the Conservatives to have nationalised one railway may be regarded as misfortune; to have nationalised four demonstrates something much more fundamental. The privatised model they have rigidly lauded in the face of all evidence is collapsing. Passengers see services get visibly, demonstrably worse while hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money is handed to shareholders without the faintest hint of competition. How much longer will people be asked to rely on a system that so routinely fails?
The Secretary of State’s decision today must just be the start. He now needs to show the leadership that has been so sorely lacking: the Government must stop casting around and blaming everyone but themselves. Will he set out to the House the immediate plan to address the long-standing issues of recruitment, training and rest day working? What steps is he taking to end the industrial dispute that has now been ongoing for over a year? Can he confirm when he last held talks with the employers and the unions to bring the dispute to an end? Strike action is imminent but he still has an opportunity to avoid it. Can it really be the case that he has not met the unions and the employers for more than five months? If that is correct it is a truly shocking dereliction of duty.
The Secretary of State’s decision today must be the start of something more fundamental. He can choose to continue with this charade, to entrench the fragmentation that his proposed reforms will deliver, or he can accept that he has been wrong and bring the remaining operators into public ownership. He can end this broken system that is failing passengers, bring track and train together, speed up fare reform and deliver a simpler, unified railway.
Today’s decision makes that case more obvious than ever. Services have never been worse, and for too long the Tories’ solution has been more of the same. The entire country should not have to put up with this for a second longer. It is time for fundamental change, and it is time to deliver the rail service that Britain deserves.
First, the hon. Lady’s point about the timing is straightforward. The TPE contract expires on
Let me turn to the hon. Lady’s more substantive points. I will set out my position on industrial action very clearly. When I took this job, I changed the tone of the debate: I met the rail union leaders and ensured that the employers were facilitated to make fair and reasonable offers. On Network Rail, a fair and reasonable offer was made of pay and reform—importantly reform, which is how these offers are being funded. That was put to the RMT members who work for Network Rail and they voted overwhelmingly to accept. Those are not my words; they are the RMT’s own words—there was a 90% turnout and 76% were in favour. Fair and reasonable offers have been made by the train operating companies, under their umbrella group, the Rail Delivery Group, to RMT members working for the train operating companies: broadly comparable offers in value, also with reform. The RMT, for reasons I really do not understand, has refused to put those offers to its members. So offers are on the table and are waiting to be put to members, and the unions will not put those offers to their members. ASLEF has an offer on the table which would take the average salary of a train driver from around £60,000 a year to £65,000. So I have been doing my job. Offers are on the table; they need to be put to the members of those unions so that they can make a decision.
The focus from the hon. Lady is not surprising, however, because the rail unions have donated a total of just over £1 million to the Labour party or Labour office holders over the last five years. The general secretary of ASLEF is chair of Labour Unions, the group of unions affiliated to the Labour party, and sits on Labour’s national executive, and the hon. Lady said that she would be working hand in glove with ASLEF. She should suggest to ASLEF that it uses this opportunity to do rest day working—[Interruption.] I have made those points to the unions, but if the hon. Lady is working hand in glove with them, she should say that and tell them to call off their strike at the weekend. She should tell them to stop focusing on damaging the Eurovision contest that we are hosting for Ukraine and work in hand in glove with them on that. If she fails to do so, people will see she is all talk and no action.
My right hon. Friend will know that the TPE level of service has caused absolute havoc for my constituents—I have had people struggling to get to college or to work—so I congratulate him on his leadership and on this decision. I am really glad he has taken this step, and I know my mum will be as well as she was stranded by TPE a few months ago. I understand that this is not a silver bullet: it will take time, and of course he will have my support, but can he say a little more about when he expects the service to reach the levels my constituents in Scunthorpe deserve?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend who has over a long period raised these issues on behalf of her constituents, and I thank her for doing so. As I said in my statement, we are not going to see overnight change. This is an important decision to reset those relationships; how quickly we can improve services will depend on the response of others to those reset relationships and how the new management of the company uses that. I hope we will see early results, but I have been clear to the House, both when I made my previous statement on Avanti and today, that there is not a magic wand, but I hope this is an opportunity to reset those relationships and get things moving in the right direction.
Back in January I said to the rail Minister, Huw Merriman, that in the prior week TPE could not point to a single day when it ran the emergency timetable promised. The improvements have been glacial and the Government have finally taken the action so many of us called for some time ago. TPE blamed anyone but itself, including workers and the unions, for the chronically poor service. The truth is it remains the worst performer and action had to be taken.
It is good to see another England-based operator nationalised; slowly but surely the UK Government are following in Scotland’s footsteps. The Secretary of State said that nationalisation is a “soundbite, not a solution”—despite it being the solution the Government have gone for. I would gently say to him that privatisation has been a bourach not a benefit.
We welcome the UK Government following the lead of the Scottish Government in nationalising an under- performing rail service and would note that this means this anti-nationalisation Tory party has now nationalised four rail services in five years. The Tories are as confused as the Leader of the Opposition, who pledged to nationalise the railways but then recently seemed to backtrack on that; it has at the very least hit signal failures.
Only 10% of people in the UK support private ownership of the railways, and even among Tory voters only 13% support privatised railways. The UK Government’s privatisation obsession is out of step with both the wider public and their own voters’ desires. Is it not time therefore for the Government to listen to the experts, the workers and the voters, and end the failed experiment of privatisation?
Disputes involving the unions and the Scottish Government were resolved very quickly, yet Scots passengers have faced disruption due to this Government’s unwillingness and inability to resolve disputes. Why does the Secretary of State think that Scotland has managed to resolve strikes so much more efficiently than this Government?
I think there were two substantive questions there and I will deal with both of them, but, first, I will accept the hon. Gentleman’s welcome for my decision— I think there was a welcome there.
On industrial action, it does take two to reach a deal. From our side, fair and reasonable offers have been put on the table. They are broadly in line with the offers made to the RMT staff who work for Network Rail which, when put to the members of the union, were accepted overwhelmingly, with a 90% turnout and 76% in favour. Similar value offers with reform have been made to RMT staff working for the train operating companies and have not been put to the members. So the clear outstanding issue is not a new offer but for the offers to be put to the members of the trade unions to enable them to make a decision. There is also an offer on the table for train drivers in the ASLEF union, which has not been put to members. As I said, that would take their average salaries to £65,000 a year. I think that offer is at least worth putting to them. That is the outstanding piece of work that needs to take place. We have done our bit of that job.
The reason why the Scottish Government reached conclusions was that they caved in. They have not delivered reform, and I think they have overpaid with taxpayers’ money. There is a balance to strike in offers that are fair and reasonable to the workers in the industry and the passengers it serves, as well as to the taxpayer. That is a responsibility that I take very seriously.
I have repeatedly called out in the Chamber the appalling levels of service that my constituents at Lockerbie station have received over a long period from TransPennine Express and the failure of its management to address those issues. Therefore, I and my constituents very much welcome the decision, because they had no confidence that TransPennine would be able to turn the situation round. As the Secretary of State says, this is a reset, where all stakeholders, including those in Scotland, can come together so that passengers can have the level of service that they both need and expect. Will he expand a little on what he will be doing to ensure that that reset can produce results?
Gladly. My right hon. Friend has indeed raised this issue on a number of occasions. First, my officials will be working with officials in the Scottish Government. This morning, I spoke to Kevin Stewart MSP, the Scottish Transport Minister, to explain the decision and how we will be working with the Scottish Government, looking at services currently under the operator of last resort, which cover the whole of the north of England, as well as cross-border services, which are important to my right hon. Friend. I also spoke to the elected Mayors in the North of England who cover those areas to explain the decision and confirm that we will be working closely with them on the best possible pattern of services going forward. I hope that that demonstrates the Government’s intention to use this reset moment as constructively as possible. I hope that everyone else will respond in like manner.
I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests as a proud trade union member. It is interesting to hear the Secretary of State talk about renewal dates. In March, when the shambolic Avanti West Coast contract was renewed, 9.1% of its services were cancelled. In the same month, only 6.6% of TransPennine services were cancelled. Why is he punishing some operators for their failures and not others? Is it not time to fix the broken system once and for all and for him to put his own ideology aside and embrace Labour’s plans to bring our railways into public ownership?
I think that I answered that question in my statement, if the hon. Lady was listening. When I made my statement about Avanti, I resisted calls to bring it into public ownership for very good reason: it was delivering on its recovery plan, and I said that I had confidence that it would continue to do so when I extended its contract by six months. Since I did that, its cancellation rate for cancellations it caused has fallen to 1.4% from 13.2% in January. It is continuing to improve, demonstrating that that was the correct decision and that I was right not to listen to calls from Labour to do the opposite.
The difficulties for people living in Grimsby and Cleethorpes in accessing London via Doncaster on TransPennine surely underlines, does it not, the importance of the campaign led by me and my hon. Friend Martin Vickers to get a new service run by London North Eastern Railway direct to London from Grimsby and Cleethorpes through Market Rasen in my constituency and Lincoln? That is a much better route. We are delighted with the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my hon. Friend Huw Merriman —the Secretary of State’s excellent rail Minister—who has been listening to us, but we want his boss to give him full support and get that service, not least because rural people demand a better service.
I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s question. I know that he and colleagues have met the rail Minister to talk about these services, and the rail Minister has been keeping me updated. I know that work will continue. We will of course do our best, as we always do, to try to keep my right hon. Friend happy.
The Secretary of State will be aware that many constituents across the country do not have access to any rail services at all. That is the case for residents in the east of Cardiff, which is why I have been a long-term campaigner for a station to be built at St Mellons. Indeed, that would also benefit the constituents of my hon. Friend Jo Stevens, who is in her place on the Front Bench. However, crucial works need to be done to make that a reality, including relief lines on that line. We also need the proposed connection between Cardiff Central and Cardiff Bay, which the Secretary of State visited, to improve services there. Will he meet me to discuss how we can move those projects along and get improved rail services for my constituents?
The hon. Gentleman rightly speaks up for his constituents. I remember how, when we announced the levelling-up fund bid for the connection between Cardiff Central and Cardiff Bay, he welcomed that on behalf of his constituents and the city he represents. Either I or the rail Minister will be pleased to meet him to discuss what more we can do to deliver services. I am keen that we deliver improved rail services across the whole of the United Kingdom, and we will do what we can to help.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s decision. To have renewed the franchise would have been to reward failure. Over the last 18 months, the TransPennine service between Cleethorpes and Manchester could be said on a good day to be unreliable and, on a bad day, totally appalling. I very much agree with him that now is the time for the unions to step forward. Let us get round the table and reach agreement on rest-day working so that my constituents can have a proper hourly service between Cleethorpes and Manchester, which is what TransPennine should have been providing for the last 18 months.
I thank my hon. Friend for that comment. Again, he is a colleague who has been raising these issues on a regular basis. It is important to recognise that this is an opportunity for people to respond accordingly. He referred to the opportunity for the unions to agree a new rest-day working contract. What is disappointing is the cynical way in which they behaved. ASLEF agreed that rest-day working contract and then immediately said it would take action short of a strike and withdrew any co-operation at all. I hope that they will respond to the decision in the right way. It is an opportunity to reset those relationships and do what we are all supposed to do, which is to deliver a better railway for the passengers who use it. I hope that they take that opportunity. If they do, they will find a willing partner in me.
Rail companies across the country are failing rail customers with fare hikes, cancellations and delays. Great Western Railway, whose line I use between Bath and London, is no better. Between July and October 2022, it saw an increase of 179% in delay compensation claims compared with the previous year. The Government have promised to fix the system and create Great British Railways in law. When will they?
I am familiar with the GWR service as I use it frequently. There have been a number of problems on the western route, which, to be fair, are often caused not by GWR but by Network Rail. However, I accept that that inconveniences passengers just the same. That is partly why we are bringing track and train together under GBR. I will continue having that focus on performance. In fact, I am seeing Network Rail’s leadership team this afternoon, and one thing we will be talking about is its performance on the western route. I will raise the hon. Lady’s specific concerns with it.
I have spoken to the rail Minister about my concerns about the service provided by Avanti and Arriva Trains Wales on many occasions. When many services are cancelled, we are informed that it is due to staff illness or sickness and people not turning up to work. Why are there such extraordinarily high levels of sickness in the sector? What is the Secretary of State doing to work with trade unions and the bosses of the train companies to understand and deal with that?
My hon. Friend raises some good points on behalf of his constituents. He recently had an update by way of a written answer about services being withdrawn by Transport for Wales and some of the infrastructure issues. I hope that was helpful. On his specific question about workforce, I have made it clear that I want a thriving, successful railway with increasing patronage and revenue coming in through the farebox. I want high-quality, well-paid jobs. We will not see those things if we do not drive up patronage, and we will not see that if there is continued industrial action. I repeat what I said: let the unions put the pay deal to their members, to see what they think. The sooner we can settle these disputes and have the rail service be successful in attracting new passengers, the better for everyone—those working in it and those using it.
The Secretary of State says that the Government evaluate the evidence to do best for our railways, yet TransPennine Express is now the fourth operator in five years to have its contract cancelled for failing passengers. When will he accept that the evidence shows the only way to fix the broken system is Labour’s plan to bring our railways into public ownership?
I am glad the hon. Lady talked about the evidence. She is not right that other services were brought into the operator of last resort because of failures in passenger services; it was largely because of financial issues. This is the first one to be brought into the OLR for failing to deliver appropriate passenger services. As I said, I do not take decisions for ideological reasons. I look at the evidence, and I will always be motivated by making the right decisions for passengers. That is what these services are designed to deliver, and that is what I will always put first.
I welcome the announcement, but the operator of last resort should have been brought in months ago. As a regular user of the Avanti west coast main line, I find that services have improved but they are still really bad. How many more second chances does Avanti deserve? When will the Secretary of State say that enough is enough and take the contract away from it?
I do not think the hon. Gentleman is right on Avanti. The services have improved. They are not completely where they need to be, but they are now up with the rest of the industry and they need to continue to improve. I made that clear when I extended the contract; I said that it had made progress and needed to continue that. I will have to make a decision later this year about what we do when it comes up for renewal again. That will depend, as it did last time, on its performance. I hope Avanti will continue to keep increasing its performance and demonstrating that it can deliver for passengers. That will be important when I make that decision.
The Secretary of State mentioned Avanti in his statement and the improvements that it is apparently making, but my constituent Zoe contacted me to say that she has been trying to book an advance standard premium ticket from London Euston to Glasgow for weeks. She needs it for the end of this month, and although she can book her ticket to London she cannot come home again because the tickets have not been released yet. What kind of a service is that, if people cannot predict how to get home? How can that possibly build confidence in the service and get people travelling?
I obviously do not know what has happened in the hon. Lady’s specific example, but if she gives the details to my hon. Friend the rail Minister, we will look into that. If we look at Avanti’s performance overall, we see that it has made considerable progress both earlier this year and since I extended the contract. As I said in answer to the previous question, I want that performance to continue to improve for constituents such as the hon. Lady’s.
Many of my constituents in south Manchester will breathe a sigh of relief that there is finally light at the end of the tunnel for trans-Pennine services. As my hon. Friend Louise Haigh set out so well earlier, TransPennine Express is not the only company failing passengers. The Secretary of State says that he does not think that public ownership is the answer, so what is the answer for those failing operators? When will the Government come forward with a proper plan for the fundamental reform and improvement of the operators that we need?
I set out a clear plan in my George Bradshaw address earlier this year, which was published in the White Paper, on bringing together track and train in GBR so that there is a guiding mind to look at the overall structure of the industry. I announced that the headquarters of GBR will be in Derby, which was welcomed. We will continue making progress to deliver on that plan, which is the right plan to have a successful thriving rail industry both for passenger customers and, importantly, for freight customers. We will set a target later this year to move a certain amount of freight off our roads and on to our railways, which is good both for railways and for our environment.
Across the Humber we welcome today’s announcement, but many fed-up passengers will say, “After years of terrible service, why has it taken so long?” Could the Secretary of State confirm that it will mean that TPE’s penny pinching and mismanagement of our beautiful Victorian Paragon station in Hull, and the five-year saga of the substandard toilets it installed, will be over? Will the Secretary of State agree to meet Humber MPs and businesses to discuss the rail electrification that is still missing from the integrated rail review, and projects such as the reinstallation of the line between Hull and York?
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for welcoming today’s decision. It is a moment to reset relationships to improve services for her constituents. On the specific question of the toilets at the station, I do not have the details to hand, but on that and her specific request to meet MPs from the Humber area, I will make sure that the rail Minister responds accordingly and sets up that meeting, at which she can discuss that issue and other colleagues can discuss appropriate issues for their areas.
Privatisation has led to the break-up of not just track and train but infrastructure, such as at Luton station. I am thankful that the rail Minister visited and has seen it for himself. He knows that I am very passionate about standing up for my constituents, and we will soon get our lifts installed. The leaks in the roof have impacted a small local business —the café—and commuters cannot get their cup of tea in the morning. Despite that, the small business moved back in, with the leaking roof, in order to survive. Will the Secretary of State please press upon Network Rail to at least fix the leaks in the roof at the station, if nothing else?
My hon. Friend the rail Minister visited that station and that very café. As the hon. Lady knows, we are keen to make sure that we fix the roof while the sun is shining. I will talk to the rail Minister and see if we can make progress to ensure that the station is in an appropriate state for her and her constituents.
My constituents in Yorkshire are brassed off with the fact that public transport is so badly damaged that it is not unavailable. There are 20,000-odd people in my area with no access to a private car, but only 3,000 use public transport. That is because the Government have an ideological drive to privatisation, even though every time those private companies get into trouble the state comes in to support them. It is also because the Government have a pathological hatred of the trade unions. Is it not time that the Government stood aside and made way for a different, better system that serves the public rather than the interests of a particular ideological group in the Tory party?
That question is so far removed from reality I do not know where to start. On the first point, the response to what has happened is that the contract has not been extended. The service has been taken into the operator of last resort because I think it is necessary to reset those relationships.
The hon. Gentleman’s second point about trade unions is fundamentally wrong. When I took this job I decided that it was important to change the tone of the debate. I met all the rail union leaders. I have a perfectly constructive relationship with them. I facilitated fair and reasonable pay offers, which settled the dispute on Network Rail and which was overwhelmingly accepted by members of the RMT. There are fair and reasonable offers on the table for RMT workers working for the train operating companies and the train drivers. All I hope is that those offers get put to the members of the trade unions—those whom the general secretaries are supposed to work for—to allow them to make a decision on what I believe are fair and reasonable pay offers.