I meet regularly with senior officials of Network Rail to discuss a wide range of key issues facing the company. Recent meetings have majored on Sir Peter Hendy’s review of the control period 5 enhancement programme.
Will the Secretary of State reiterate the Government’s commitment to the recommendations of the Great Eastern main line taskforce, which brings benefits to all counties on its route? Will he ensure that Network Rail delivers the necessary improvements to track in East Anglia in CP5 and CP6?
Yes. I am very glad to say that we have been able to issue the invitation to tender in relation to the East Anglia franchise, something on which my hon. Friend has been very persistent. Services to Norwich in 90 minutes and services to Ipswich in 60 minutes form part of that tender. She is right about the other improvements we need to look at as well. She can take my assurance that I will raise them with Sir Peter Hendy when I meet him later today.
I think I need a bit more direction on what the actual question is. There has been electrification of the line between Liverpool and Manchester, which is very welcome. We now have electric trains running on that line and there will soon be more. If the hon. Gentleman has a more specific point, perhaps he would like to write to me.
During the great storms in the west country in early 2014, we found our main line route to Cornwall floating in the sea. The peninsular rail task force put together three proposals, including the Okehampton link. Have any conclusions been reached? It would add huge benefits to our economic potential in North Cornwall.
I well remember the situation at Dawlish. I also remember the valiant way Network Rail worked to restore that link. It did an exceptional job in very difficult circumstances, so even at this stage I would again like to add my thanks to all the people who worked on that scheme to restore the link. My hon. Friend is quite right about the taskforce that the peninsula group has brought forward. We are looking at its report and will have further comments to make once the re-planning of CP5 is undertaken by Sir Peter Hendy.
The very welcome creation of the National Training Academy for Rail will help to plug some of the skills shortage, which is behind many of the delays to electrification, but does the Minister share my concern that the proposed 40% cut to the budget of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills will undermine the academy’s ability to deliver on the skills shortages?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the academy at Northampton, which I visited a few months ago and which my hon. Friend the rail Minister opened just a few weeks ago. It will play an important role in upskilling, but it is not just about upskilling the state; it is about upskilling the whole industry and bringing it together. That is one reason I asked Sir Terry Morgan, the chairman of Crossrail, to co-ordinate an apprenticeships programme right across the transport sector.