A further announcement about the franchising programme will be made in the spring by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, setting out the timetable for future franchise competitions.
My constituents and others who need to use east coast rail services twice faced hiatus when two private operators collapsed. The public sector operator, East Coast, currently running the services contributed twice as much money to the Treasury in its last year than its predecessor National Express did in 2008-09. Before the Government announce their franchising schedule will they look at the feasibility of running a public sector franchise on the east coast for a period to compare like for like with a private franchise on the west coast to resolve the issue?
However charming the hon. Gentleman is, I am afraid that he is not going to tease out of me in advance what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will announce on future timetabling in the spring this year. That would be completely inappropriate, and I know the hon. Gentleman, an experienced parliamentarian, will fully understand that.
I welcome the plans for the new franchise on the east coast main line and hope that they will include the reinstatement of the direct service between King’s Cross and Cleethorpes. Ministers will be aware, however, that the biggest problem facing my constituents at the moment is gaining access to any service on the east coast main line due to the landslip between Scunthorpe and Doncaster. First TransPennine is looking at alternative routes for its service to Manchester, but access to London and the south is extremely difficult. Will Ministers use their influence to ensure that East Midlands Trains improves its service to Newark North Gate in the interim?
I fully appreciate the problems that my hon. Friend’s and other hon. Members’ constituents face due to this unfortunate act of nature. As my hon. Friend will be aware, all is being done by all the relevant authorities and train operators to seek to minimise the disruption to passengers during this difficult time and to expedite the repair and restoration of the track. I fear that it is going to take some time because of the sheer scale of the problem. I fully take on board my hon. Friend’s point and will pass his comments to Network Rail and the rail operators to see what more can possibly be done to try to alleviate the problems.