Yet another Southeastern debate was held yesterday in Parliament regarding the ever growing list of delays to improvements and awarding a new franchise.
Considering the current franchise was supposed to end in 2014, which didn’t happen due to one of those classic Department for Transport cock ups, it was sadly unsurprising to hear yet more nonsense from Railway’s Minister Andrew Jones who was put up to answer questions in place of Chris Grayling.
Firstly, he avoided saying very much of anything about why yet another delay has been announced putting back improvements. He kept referring to “market sensitivities”.
He made some nonsensical statements such as not wanting micro-management of the railways. As anyone who looks into the network knows, the system has far more interference now from Ministers and the Department for Transport than British Rail ever did, which operated at arms-length from government.
The current system sees just about everything dictated by government who then use franchises as a convenient shield to deflect from fare increases, rolling stock shortages and much else.
The Minister also claimed franchises had led to investment. It’s hard to see exactly where in south east London except stations being painted a new colour every few years.
One example he gave was new trains purchased by leasing companies. Of course that has barely had any impact in SE London, and even then, franchises leasing stock off a private leasing company for 40 years is more expensive over time than buying outright, especially when government borrowing is lower than it’s ever been with interest rates on 10 year UK gilts at just 1.18%.
Another cracking line was stating he was a fan of devolution. Presumably only as long as a fellow Conservative was Mayor. He then bashed TfL finances. No mention of course that it was George Osborne’s £700 million annual cut made in 2015 which causes the bulk of problems. It dwarfs the fare freeze cost and even Crossrail’s delay.
The comedy act was then joined by some MPs asking such tough statements as Huw Merrimen (Conservative – Bexhill and Battle) stating “My constituents will be disappointed with this delay, but I have every faith that the Minister will get this right”.
The Minister was unable to offer any guarantees on improvements soon such as Delay Repay going to 15 minutes which other franchises are getting.
Stagecoach were recently excluded from the next Southeastern franchise process leaving just two bidders. One is the current operator GoVia and the other is Abellio who have issues at their other franchises.
No questions were asked about whether the future franchise would use the TfL fare scale in London as some other private franchises do. Doing so would remove surcharges for switching to the tube and DLR as well as cheaper single fares. There was much mention of smart ticketing especially from Kent. Be careful what you wish for, as in London that’s been used to sneak in higher than inflation fare rises for years.