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First Capital Connect (Thameslink)

Volume 504: debated on Thursday 28 January 2010

4. What assessment he has made of the effects on the economy of London of recent disruptions in First Capital Connect’s Thameslink service. (313713)

There have been severe problems with First Capital Connect’s service. The service continues to be unacceptable in terms of cancellations, punctuality and passenger service and information. The poor service has caused disruption for passengers and will inevitably have had some impact on London’s economy. My noble Friend the Secretary of State and I are considering all options open to the Government to require radical improvements.

The Minister will know that not only my constituents, but many, many others have got so frustrated that the number of people petitioning the Government to do something now is growing by the day. Will he assure us that a decision will be taken not on the basis of defending the ideology of sustaining franchises, but in the interests of commuters and other users of the service, and that the users of the service will hear something soon?

The way in which the hon. Gentleman asked the question is important, as is the point that he has made. Hundreds of thousands of commuters have received an appalling service, not for one week or one month, but over a period of three months. We take the matter seriously, and the Secretary of State and I discuss it daily with the train operating company, which includes telephone calls, meetings and letters. The hon. Gentleman is right to remind us that each day the service is not improved is another day of suffering for passengers, and there is a cost to London as well.

Thousands of my constituents travel every day by First Capital Connect, as do I, and we can give a daily account of the failings of that company, which has shown itself to be totally incompetent and interested only in making money, not providing a service. I urge my right hon. Friend to give serious consideration to taking the franchise away and bringing it back to the public sector.

All options are on the table. I hear my hon. Friend’s representations, as I listen to all representations. The point made in the previous question is important. We must not allow dogma to dictate the quality of service, or lack of it, that passengers receive. My job, and that of the Department and our officials, is to ensure a radical improvement in the quality of service provided by First Capital Connect.

The Minister is right. Dogma should not be part of this discussion. First Capital Connect should rightly be condemned for the poor service that it has provided. However, if dogma is not to be a part of the discussion, I am sure the Minister will want to inform the House that the east coast line has seen punctuality drop from 89 per cent. to 67 per cent. since it was nationalised. If we are concerned about the future of the London economy, can the Minister assure the House that there are no plans to reduce the number of trains running through the core on Thameslink 2?

I am glad the hon. Gentleman has given me an opportunity to remind the House of the £5.5 billion investment in the Thameslink programme, which is at risk if, God forbid, the Conservative party forms a Government. On policy, it is important that I remind him of the “Conservative rail review: Getting the best for passengers” policy, which is this:

“The DfT’s role should be radically stripped back . . . retaining only a limited involvement”

with franchises. So the powers that we have would be taken away if the Opposition were to form a Government.