Maria Eagle MP, Labour's Shadow Transport Secretary, has called on the Government to rethink its proposed reviews into the InterCity West Coast franchise competition to ensure they are genuinely independent and able to look at all options for the future of rail services.
Ahead of an expected statement to Parliament on Monday 15 October, Maria Eagle MP has written to the Transport Secretary, Rt Hon Patrick McLoughlin MP, raising a number of concerns, including:
The decision to allow the ‘independent review’ into what went wrong with the InterCity West Coast competition to be conducted by non-executive directors of the Department for Transport. Considering the need to look thoroughly at the role of everyone involved in this process, including Ministers and senior officials, Labour is asking the Government to reconsider and appoint a genuinely independent chair of the review unconnected to the Department.
The apparent pre-judging of the 'independent review' by Ministers and briefing from the Department for Transport which suggest that it has already been decided that responsibility for the fiasco rests solely with three officials. In a letter to Maria Eagle dated 3rd October 2012, Transport Minister Simon Burns stated: “I should say that it is clear the flaw is not with our strategic approach but with the handling of technical details by the officials in the Department for Transport. There is no evidence to suggest that past Ministers were involved. This is a technical error by officials at the Department and we will take appropriate action on that.” This should be for the review to determine.
The wider review being conducted by Richard Brown CBE should be able to look not just at lessons to be learnt on franchising but also into whether franchising itself remains appropriate for the delivery of rail services in future. The Government has suggested that this will be beyond its remit yet Lord Attlee, speaking for the Government in response to Labour's Private Notice Question in the House of Lords on Thursday, said: “if we need a more fundamental review of the structure of the rail industry, and in particular franchising, I am sure that the Brown review will suggest that.” Ministers must now clear up this confusion.
Labour has previously called on the Government to confirm that responsibility for delivering services on the InterCity West Coast line will transfer to the Government's own not for private profit company after Virgin's contract ends on 9 December. Industry experts have warned that any other option would leave the Department for Transport open to the risk of further legal challenge, putting tax payers at risk of even greater liability for the franchise fiasco.
In addition, Labour has urged Ministers to abandon plans to privatise the InterCity East Coast service next year and instead put a reformed Directly Operated Railways on a permanent footing to establish a public sector comparator that would provide stability for passengers and taxpayers while enabling a longer term assessment to be made.<div>