A senior Tory MP has slammed ministers for a lack of detail over what will replace the current system of rail franchising.
Ministers announced on Monday that they have ‘ended’ rail franchising after 24 years but placed existing operators onto transitional contracts while they draw up a white paper to reshape the sector.
Huw Merriman (pictured), Conservative MP for Bexhill and Battle and chair of the Transport Select Committee, said that in the absence of detailed reforms, ‘today’s announcement means we are simply replacing one set of interim contracts with another set of interim contracts’ and called on the Government to set down some detail about what it intends to do next.
He said: ‘The Williams Rail Review, established in September 2018, was expected to publish its findings and recommendations in Autumn 2019 with reform expected this year. The wait for Williams is delaying change.’
The Government said on Monday that the White Paper will be published ‘when the course of the pandemic becomes clearer'.
Mr Merriman said: ‘The Government is right to reflect on the coronavirus pandemic but we’ve been in this situation for six months now. The Department for Transport and the Treasury have gained more control over the railways than they have had at any time since privatisation. At a time when the Government has more power over the railways, it makes it even more frustrating that long-term changes, including flexible fare reform, are still some way down the track.’
He added: ‘It should be remembered that private sector management of our train services saw passenger numbers double since privatisation. We are going to need to see passenger numbers recover if the railway is to be financially viable. Our railways need the entrepreneurship of the private sector to innovate and drive growth in a manner which responds to new consumer demands.
‘The Secretary of State told our committee in June he wanted to move to TfL-type contracts. The Government’s interim emergency contracts are similar to these in some ways, but what is missing is the independent contracting body Keith Williams has talked about.
‘Without such a body, the DfT will not be able to drive performance and change. The Government needs a new guiding mind to take the industry through the pandemic and design and manage new contracts for the longer term.
‘We need a permanent, long-term solution that delivers clarity for the rail sector and the passenger. The sooner we know what that looks like, the better.’