Thursday, 30 October 2014

Equal access to rail franchise process

A nice coincidence after my posting about devolved transport administration, Andy Sawford MP yesterday won leave to bring in a Bill to allow public-owned entities to bid for British rail franchises. It is unfortunate that Mr Sawford chose to use most of his ten minutes in promoting Labour's 2015 manifesto policy, thus attracting an equally doctrinaire response from Martin Vickers on the Conservative benches. Ten-minute Rule motions mostly go through on the nod, in the knowledge that there is practically no parliamentary time available to allow the resulting Bill to proceed, but this one aroused so much passion on the Conservative side that one was surprised that the House voted by a large majority to consider the Bill in January, the Noes mustering only 38.

Mr Sawford drew attention to the anomaly that continental publicly-owned operators can bid for rail services in Britain, but our own public service does not have the same freedom at home or abroad. He cited the success of the Great Eastern franchise when it lapsed into public hands, but Mr Vickers pointed out that some costs - track access charges and cost of bidding - normally paid by franchisees were not taken into account.

If the short debate has drawn attention to the inflexibility of the franchising process, it will have done some good, even if Mr Sawford's Bill will sink without trace.

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