Constituency matters… a weekly column by the Member of Parliament for Folkestone and Hythe, Damian Collins 29 September 2021.
This week the Department for Transport took decisive action to take over control of the South Eastern railway franchise.
This decision is no reflection on the professionalism or dedication of the front-line staff at South Eastern, who have worked hard to continue to serve their customer’s needs during the pandemic. Also, this decision by the government will not have a detrimental impact on passenger services or ticket prices, and nor will it affect the jobs of members of the frontline staff.
The reason this decision has been made is because of a breakdown in trust between the Department for Transport and senior management at South Eastern.
In order to ensure the rail industry had been able to stem the worst of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the sector, the government provided an unparalleled level of support to the industry, entrusting nearly £13billion of taxpayers’ money to secure the continuation of passenger services and protect frontline jobs. Given the level of support, it is essential that the Department can trust its partners.
The South Eastern railway management had broken this trust, by failing to report over £25million of historic franchise payments due to be repaid to the government. This money has now been recovered, but it is possible that further investigations into other historic contract issues may identify other monies that are owed. It is essential that there is public trust in operators, who should work tirelessly for the interests of passengers and taxpayers.
Whilst the government is running the railway as the operator of last resort, careful consideration needs to be given to the future of the railways in the South Eastern region. In particular I believe we should look at the model used in London, whereby private contractors work for a single public authority, like Transport for London, which oversees the routes and services provided.
Bringing in Army
Over the past week most drivers have been affected by the shortages of petrol and diesel at local filling stations. It is inevitable that whenever there are concerns raised about the level of supplies, that motorists’ first instinct is to fill up their vehicle to ensure they have the fuel they need for necessary journeys they know they will have to make. This, of course, puts further pressure on supplies.
To ease this pressure the government has decided to bring in the armed forces to help support the delivery of supplies to filling stations, and to enable the operating companies to work together to target deliveries where they are needed most. The Home Office has also agreed to grant more temporary visas so that more HGV drivers from outside of the UK can come here to take up vacancies at the delivery companies.
These measures appear to be having a positive impact and the pressure on the supply of petrol and diesel is now easing. We need to do all that we can to ensure that the deliveries continue to get through to where they are required.