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East Coast Main Line

Volume 589: debated on Thursday 4 December 2014

My officials meet East Coast and Directly Operated Railways on a regular basis to discuss the performance of the franchise. DOR’s financial accounts are published on its website on an annual basis.

When the Secretary of State announced the reckless and ideologically driven privatisation of this beloved and excellently performing public sector service, he made a commitment on the frequency of services from Newcastle, but not their cost, so will he tell me now whether prices will go down or be frozen, or will they go up for the profits of Stagecoach and at the expense of my constituents?

As I announced last week on a very successful bid as far as Virgin-Stagecoach were concerned, they will reduce the costs on some of the most expensive tickets on that route. I would also point out that the Virgin-Stagecoach bid includes £140 million of investment, including £21 million on presentation and performance enhancements to the current fleet; £20 million on enhancements to the new intercity express programme fleet; and a £4 million fund for customer stakeholder improvement, among many, many more enhancements. If there was any party that reflected dogma last week, it was the Labour party.

My constituents will welcome the improved performance on the east coast main line, but in order to access services on the main line, they have to travel on the TransPennine network. Does my right hon. Friend have any information about future services on that line?

My hon. Friend, along with the Grimsby and Scunthorpe Telegraph, has led an interesting campaign. I am pleased to say that after consideration of the responses to our consultation on the Northern and TransPennine Express franchise, we have decided to retain the Cleethorpes services within the TPE franchise. The forthcoming invitation to tender for the TPE franchise will specify that direct services between Cleethorpes and Manchester airport should continue. I know that my hon. Friends the Members for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) and for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) have both been at the forefront of this campaign, and I am very pleased to announce today that it has been successful.

Polling shows that a majority of the public oppose the Government’s plans to privatise the east coast main line, and people in their thousands are signing the petition launched by Labour this week. Given that the east coast service has achieved the top customer satisfaction rating for a long-distance rail operator and improved performance, and given that the public sector operator will have returned over £1 billion to the Exchequer before privatisation, why is Directly Operated Railways not even allowed to bid for the contract? When will the Secretary of State finally listen to the travelling public and call a halt to this privatisation?

I welcomed the hon. Gentleman to the Dispatch Box last week when I answered his urgent question, but as this is his first Transport questions, I again welcome him to his post. I have to tell him how interested I was in the interview that he gave to the Daily Mirror on Tuesday, in which he said:

“I want to be a Transport Secretary not a train-spotter . . . there have been too many train-spotters in the job.”

Anybody in this job is not a train-spotter but is interested in what happens to the motorist, the passenger and the cyclist, and should not distinguish between them.

I come back to the point that I made last week. The tendering process has given great rewards to those areas, and will bring more services and better facilities to passengers on that route. I followed the route that the Labour Government followed for 13 years. When the last Labour Transport Secretary brought in DOR, he said that it would be a short-term solution.

I welcome the franchise announcements, which see major improvements across the network. In respect of the east coast main line, however, there are some local concerns in York about the future franchise headquarters. For generations York has been the beating heart of the east coast main line, so will the Secretary of State or the Minister responsible for rail, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), agree to look at what can be done to ensure that the headquarters stay in York?

I understand the point that my hon. Friend makes. The lease is up on the premises where the headquarters are currently located. I want the new franchise company to consider where its headquarters will be, but one of the announcements was that there would be training facilities in London, Derby and York to train people to operate that service. York will always be a very important part of the service.