Rail Reform Delays: Cost

Transport – in the House of Commons at on 21 March 2024.

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Photo of Lloyd Russell-Moyle Lloyd Russell-Moyle Labour/Co-operative, Brighton, Kemptown

What estimate he has made of the cost to the public purse of delays to planned rail reforms.

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Labour, Ealing Central and Acton

What estimate he has made of the cost to the public purse of delays to planned rail reforms.

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Minister of State (Department for Transport)

The recent National Audit Office report was clear that we expect to spend £400 million on rail reform up to the end of March 2024, compared with initial plans to spend £1.2 billion. The report was also clear that we are forecasting £2 billion of total savings over the current spending review period, which is 77% of our original savings target.

Photo of Lloyd Russell-Moyle Lloyd Russell-Moyle Labour/Co-operative, Brighton, Kemptown

It has been three years since we were told that Great British Railways would happen. In my reading of the NAO report, it says that the £1.5 billion of savings will not be met in time. The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers says that another half billion could be achieved if we removed the profit motive from the railways, where a huge amount is wasted on shareholders. When will the Government progress on GBR and when will we get a date for its implementation? Is it not time for them to bite the bullet and renationalise our railways, as we have done successfully with several lines?

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Minister of State (Department for Transport)

At the heart of rail reform is integrating track and train. I am very pleased that the Transport Committee has taken on the role of being the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee for the draft Rail Reform Bill, and is now scrutinising that legislation. The cut-off date for evidence is next Wednesday, if the hon. Gentleman would like to put his suggestions forward. I hope that the Committee will complete its report by July; the Government will have two months to respond to the recommendations, and if we have cross-party support for an integrated rail body that brings track and train together, I hope we will be able to bring in legislation to that effect, and improve rail services for everyone.

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Labour, Ealing Central and Acton

High Speed 2, with its out-of-control costs, is compounding local misery, because it is now set to close the vital artery of Old Oak Common Lane for four to five years. We only know that because it leaked out, which shows the Government’s disregard for community and transparency. What assurances can the Minister give about funding for the Euston leg, so that the world-class interchange that we were promised does not end up being the terminus, and so that my long-suffering residents do not pay the price of Government project mismanagement by being hemmed in until 2030 because they cannot get on their one access road to the outside?

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Minister of State (Department for Transport)

An Old Oak Common terminus provides a great opportunity for regeneration in the area. I have visited a number of times, and I am committed to working with the community to minimise impacts. One of the ways that is being done is by ensuring that the spoil is removed by conveyor, rather than by lorry. We do seek to minimise the impact; we recognise that when new rail stations are built, there is an impact.

Turning to the hon. Lady’s concern about Euston, I have met our property developer partners Lendlease. Our aim is to deliver not just a station, but the largest public sector land deal in London, which will completely regenerate the area. It will deliver offices, jobs and homes, and will also provide the funding to deliver the station, not just for HS2 but for Network Rail. We are committed to ensuring that Network North delivers that station.

Photo of Stephen Morgan Stephen Morgan Shadow Minister (Defence) (Armed Forces and Defence Procurement), Shadow Minister (Transport)

Earlier this month, the National Audit Office issued a damning report that made it clear that this Government’s refusal to bring forward long-delayed rail reforms is costing taxpayers dearly. Avanti West Coast made the amount of waste in our rail system crystal clear when it bragged about getting “free money” from Government, despite the truly shocking service that it delivers, so it should come as no surprise that yesterday, northern Mayors and council leaders unanimously called for Avanti to lose its contract due to its appalling service. The question for the Minister today is simple: will he strip Avanti of its contract—yes or no?

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Minister of State (Department for Transport)

No, we will not. The reason is that there are issues with the west coast main line that will remain, regardless of who the operator is. It is essential to get underneath the bonnet, look at the issues and fix them, rather than looking just at what is on the side of the car. To take just one four-week period from Christmas, 65% of the delays in that period were down not to the operator but Network Rail, and they involved weather-related issues as well as trespass and, sadly, suicides, which we need to minimise.

We also have issues with restrictive contracts, and I would like change there. For example, Avanti is unique as an operator, in the sense that its drivers will not double-trip. They will do one return journey, but will not go over the same leg of rail twice. [Interruption.] Louise Haigh asks whose fault that is. That contract was agreed in 1997, so maybe we know whose fault it was. That sums up this ludicrous situation: we are talking about a contract from 1997 that was due to end in five years, in 2002, yet that contract between the union and any operator remains. Until we can make progress on restrictive contracts, we will not be able to make changes. A Government cannot break the contract—it is between the operator and the union. I welcome the steps that Mick Lynch

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport)

I start by thanking Alex Hynes for having done a fantastic job running Scotland’s Railway for seven years. He is departing to become the director general of rail at the Department for Transport, where he will help steer rail reform. And what a job he has! As we have heard, the National Audit Office said that rail reform was not on track. Not only are there £1.5 billion a year in lost savings, but the Department has failed to make planned savings of £4.1 billion from workforce reforms and the establishment of Great British Railways. Cuts of £4.1 billion to the transport budget were nevertheless announced by the Chancellor two weeks ago. Does the Minister agree that his Government are unable to make savings, but all too willing to make cuts?

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Minister of State (Department for Transport)

No, I do not. I am delighted at the appointment of Alex Hynes, who will become a director general in the Department for Transport. He will put track and train together in the Department, and that departmental section will move out to Great British Railways once the legislation is put in place, so I do not agree at all. The appointment demonstrates that we are getting on with rail reform by appointing the right staff, and we have started on the legislative path.

Mr Speaker, I know I take too long at the Dispatch Box when I talk about the need to fix such contracts, but they are complicated. This session should not be about cheap soundbites; it does not work like that. It should be about getting into the detail. There are sticky contract provisions that the courts will not allow a Government or an operator to break unilaterally. I do wish this House would be a bit more intellectual in its approach to scrutiny.