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Privatised Network Rail “absurd” says Rail Minister, but review not ruled out

Claire Perry rail minister

Rail Minister Claire Perry defends Network Rail's performance in face of increase in passenger and freight demands, but warns that delivery remains the government focus, as shadow minister demands transparency over CP5 costs and scope.

Rail Minister Claire Perry this week appeared to rule out any notion that the new Tory administration was planning to privatise the struggling Network Rail organisation but indicated that a review of current delivery performance was likely.

Speaking at the Railway Engineers Forum technical seminar this week, Perry said that any government decision on the future of Network Rail remained with the Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin.

“I am going to allow the Secretary of State for Transport to make strategic decisions such as that,” she said when asked whether the government was planning to restructure Network Rail in light of its on-going failure to meet enhancement and maintenance delivery target.

“I think the challenge is all about delivery and this will be a parliament of delivery. We know that we can do it. But we have to all work to together to make sure that it is done.” Claire Perry, rail minister

“I want to see a highly efficient industry. But does anyone ever think we should renationalise British Airways? Or set up a government owned airline? Of course not, it would be absurd,” she told delegates. “I don’t want us to have that conversation about the rail network. I want us to recognise the benefits that have come from privatisation, the enormous increase in passenger services and passenger growth and the enormous increase in freight and work out what government needs to do better.”

She added: ”[We must work out] where does government need to intervene and where does government need to be a bit bolder and get off the back of industry. That is what I want.”

Perry’s comments followed last week’s highly critical Office of Road and Rail quarterly performance report on Network Rail performance which highlighted that at the end of the 2014-15 period, Network Rail had missed 30 out of its 84 planned milestones with some projects facing delays or cost escalations. 

ORR said that it was launching an investigation into why Network Rail had delivered less renewal work than it planned, with track renewal 7% behind plan; signalling renewals are 63% behind schedule; and overhead line renewals are 77% behind target.

Asked whether she was disappointed with this performance Perry said that the challenge handed to Network Rail was the biggest ever and so that presented a huge challenge across the company and the whole industry when it came to delivery of the plan. 

“We have heard talk of breaking up the organisation into regions and selling them off – that was rejected by the Major government and is should be again. We need some clarity around this and possibly a bit of an argument." Lillian Greenwood, shadow rail minister

“The Secretary of State, the department and myself are all absolutely focussed on this need to deliver. And we have to deliver to earn the credibility for the next stage of investment,” she said. “I think the challenge is all about delivery and this will be a parliament of delivery. We know that we can do it. But we have to all work to together to make sure that it is done.”

The Labour shadow rail minister Lillian Greenwood agreed that a cross party approach to the problem was crucial but said that it was time for the “hard questions” to be asked of the Rail Minster. 

“The first one that should be top her list is what is happening with CP5,” she told delegates. “It is an open secret in the industry that costs are overrunning and projects are delayed or could be cancelled. I think we need a bit transparency about what is going on and what is realistically going to be achieved in the timescale set out and what the plan is to deal with the cost overruns and delays.”

The second, hard question she said was about the future of Network Rail. “The Minister passed the question on to Patrick McLoughlin but it reality does matter to the whole of the industry,” she said. “We have heard talk of breaking up the organisation into regions and selling them off – that was rejected by the Major government and is should be again. We need some clarity around this and possibly a bit of an argument." 

  • An interview with Rail Minister Claire Perry will feature in the next paper publication of Infrastructure Intelligence

Comments

It would be absurd to privatise BA because it is kept competitive by genuine consumer choice, several airlines fly from London to Barcelona etc.. Only one train company provides direct services from London to Manchester and therefore 'competition' becomes meaningless for the customer and providers have less incentive to be competitive.
Yes, absolutely! We need a competing service from Mamchester to London. I suggest re-introducing East Midlands HSTs to St Pancras, initially via the Dore and Totley curve but in the long term, re-instating the gap between Peak Forest and Matlock to re=establish the Midland route. St Pancras is a high profile destination with connections to destinations south of the Thames and to the continent!