Last month I wrote a blog about the resignation as rail Minister of Claire Perry, coming as it did, a few days after her appearance before MPs on 13th July in a debate on the travails of the Southern Rail franchise and its much abused passengers. That debate was organised by Tim Loughton, MP for East Worthing and Shoreham. There is now news that on 12th September (2 months after the last debate) Henry Smith, MP for Crawley is to convene an ‘adjournment debate’ on the same theme. Although that could lead to the resignation of the current rail Minister, Paul Maynard, that seems unlikely as he has only just arrived. However something more than talking is clearly required. As much as the Government and many Conservative MPs appear to want to blame these problems on the workers, the reality is that the problem is on both sides of the management worker divide.
It was made clear to Parliament back in July and before that in January by a senior official in the Department for Transport “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.” The fact is that when the private sector or indeed the charitable sector fails in its delivery of services that are in effect monopolies on which large numbers of people depend, that we need the Government to step in. Simply arguing that such a move is not what MPs want is unacceptable. The DfT did well previously in the case of the East Coast franchise when negotiations broke down. They must do so again, and if the franchise is as complex as the DfT judge it to be, then they must do so with a reforming strategy so that the service becomes one that the Government itself is not frightened of in the future.