A grim fairytale railway

southernOvernight Claire Perry MP, Rail Minister has resigned from the Government, for reasons she has not yet disclosed officially. According to this article she told friends “she could not face working for another secretary of state” and few outside the closed world of his personal supporters would deny that Chris Grayling, the new Transport Minister caused untold damage in his time at the Ministry Of Justice. However she has also resigned three days after her appearance in a debate in Westminster Hall on Wednesday entitled ‘Govia Thameslink Rail Service’ and one of her friends also explained “she was fed up justifying how crap our railways are – she wants the freedom to tell the truth”. During the debate, she had claimed that her resignation would achieve nothing in the context of the Southern Railways franchise. I had planned to blog about that debate for other reasons today, but Claire Perry’s resignation has added to what already seems to be something of a grim fairy tale when one examines some of the words spoken by Claire’s colleagues. Of course just because an MP makes a statement in Parliament does not make their words accurate. They are as capable of telling lies and getting things wrong as anyone else. Because they are protected from being sued in Parliament, sometimes they do say things that no one else would dare to say elsewhere. Tim Loughton, MP for East Worthing and Shoreham is certainly no stranger to making statements that are without solid foundation, however the following words from one of his speeches on Wednesday seem to be reflections of what others have said and so bizarrely are probably accurate.

“I have been trying to get to the bottom of the finances in this whole crisis. In the Select Committee last week, Charles Horton said that GTR’s turnover amounts to some £1.3 billion, with just over 90% of that coming from the fee, paid by the Department for Transport, for running the franchise. The amount of fine—it is really difficult to drill down into exactly how much fine it has paid—seems to be about £2 million. Less than 0.2% of its annual revenue is having to be paid in fines as a result of the incompetent way in which it has run this service…..It is the only [franchise] in the country where the rail company is paid a fee by the Department and where all the revenue from passengers’ tickets goes directly to the Government. It is difficult to see who loses out when it goes wrong. When the network fails, there is a points problem, a London Bridge problem or whatever, Network Rail pays a penalty to GTR as the operator. That penalty is only paid on to the customer if they actually get round to the complicated process of the compensation payments, so GTR makes a profit, potentially, from problems on the network.”

Tim Loughton then goes on to refer to a rail summit held in Parliament in January:

“What really struck everybody at that summit was that the head official from the Department for Transport, when asked about taking back the franchise, got up and said, “Well basically, if GTR were not running this franchise—a very large franchise, a complex franchise—I would be the one responsible for it in the Department for Transport, and you don’t want that.” In effect, GTR was told it faced little prospect of us taking back the franchise because we cannot really run it ourselves. What sort of incentive was that for GTR to get its act together if it knows it can get even worse and even then the Government will not intervene and do something about it? I am really angry about this on behalf of my constituents.”

So we appear to have a franchise designed to allow GTR to benefit from any problems created by Network Rail as long as you and I don’t bother to claim our refunds and one that the Department for Transport is not willing to run, irrespective of how badly GTR run it. You really couldn’t make it up. It is just like a Grimm fairy tale or at least a very grim story.

About ianchisnall

I am passionate about the need for public policies to be made accessible to everyone, especially those who want to improve the wellbeing of their communities. I am particularly interested in issues related to crime and policing as well as health services and strategic planning.
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