[John Cummings in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 12:21 pm on 14th July 2009.

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Photo of Chris Mole Chris Mole Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport 12:21 pm, 14th July 2009

Not directly to my hon. Friend's constituency.

Punctuality, which is passengers' No. 1 concern, has improved dramatically. It has risen steadily since National Express East Coast took over the franchise, with the moving annual average rising from 81.7 to 87.6 per cent. Daily punctuality levels are now frequently above 90 per cent., and several 100 per cent. days have been achieved.

We have seen tremendous innovation on the route, with wi-fi being introduced first to 10 trains and then to the whole east coast inter-city fleet-I have ambitions to see that on the service that I use every week. Stations on the route have also benefited from substantial and sustained investment, with the quality of the facilities being offered being recognised at places such as Durham, which was declared station of the year at the 2008 national rail awards.

Finally, we should remember that the inter-city east coast franchise is one of those rare breeds that return a premium to the Department, and that premium is reinvested in the railway industry. Events of the recent past may have reduced the premiums available, but we can still confidently expect a significant return.

The Department for Transport recently appointed a new franchisee to the South Central franchise following a strongly contested competition. That demonstrates the market's belief in the franchise system. The recent events surrounding National Express East Coast, the current inter-city east coast franchisee, have generated significant interest and debate. None of us takes any pleasure in the failure of a business or in a company's inability to fulfil its contract to the Government. My hon. Friend the Member for City of York asserted that train operating companies take all the benefit while the Government take all the pain, but I draw his attention to the fact that companies normally have revenue risk for four years, after which Government revenue support comes into effect. However, the revenue share mechanism commences from day one, so excess profits are immediately shared with the Government.