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Transport Infrastructure: the North

Volume 634: debated on Thursday 18 January 2018

As my hon. Friend will know, the Government are very committed to the northern powerhouse, and to giving the great towns and cities of the north of England more say over transport investment through Transport for the North. This Government are spending more than £13 billion to transform transport across the region—the biggest investment of its kind in the region for a generation.

The commencement of regional flights from Carlisle, which we hope will happen later this year, will be welcomed by my constituents. Will the Department look at ways to add additional services and to make it faster to reach central London from Southend?

I share my hon. Friend’s pleasure at the potential expansion of air services there, as elsewhere in the country. He should be aware that Greater Anglia provides train services from Southend Airport to London, and the entire franchise fleet is to be renewed, with more than 1,000 state-of-the-art vehicles and with the existing fleet retired by the end of 2020. That, combined with significant timetable changes, should mean that Greater Anglia is able to offer quicker, safer journeys, with reduced journey times, across the whole franchise—we are talking about something like 10%.

Is it not the case that if the Government had not given the £2 billion bail-out to the operators of the east coast line, they would have had sufficient money to fund every electrification scheme that has been cancelled, including the midland main line, and have funds left over?

As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, there has been no bail-out. [Laughter.] I notice that Opposition Members are happy to quote from The Times, and may I remind them that the Secretary of State responded to the scurrilous editorial piece with a letter of his own setting out the position? There has been no bail-out of any kind.

I welcome the Minister to his post. On his opening remarks, may I remind him that there is a north beyond the northern powerhouse, and it is called Scotland? In general, in order to deliver high-quality, reliable rail services, funding needs to be based on the needs of the sector, taking account of future growth, the size of the network and essential maintenance. Does he agree with those sound principles?

I certainly share the hon. Gentleman’s commitment to the fact that the north goes beyond the northern powerhouse—of course, I entirely agree with him on that. That is why the Government are involved with the borderlands growth deal, the precise point of which is to work with local authorities on both sides of the border. He will be aware that the high-level proposition to the UK and Scottish Governments on that was submitted last year. We will continue to work on that, and of course we will continue to invest in roads, alongside that process, to the extent that we can.

On the principles I was trying to lay out, Scotland has 17% of the UK rail network but was allocated only 10.4% of the UK spend. The Government regulator, the Office of Rail and Road, has stated that £1.9 billion is needed for essential repairs and £2.3 billion is needed to meet future demand. So why was the funding formula cut and why were experts ignored, leaving Scotland with a £600 million shortfall?

As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, there has been a fiscal settlement which has changed over time, very much in consultation with and with the support of the Scottish Government. Of course, any changes to UK funding in England will be followed by Barnett consequentials, with an impact in Scotland.

Well, investment does not seem to be working that well. The Carillion staff working on the Manchester-Bolton-Preston electrification project had their contract suspended this week. So can the Minister clarify this: should all these workers only expect the jobcentre phone number, as the Prime Minister said yesterday, or can he guarantee that these works, and all similar infrastructure undertakings, will continue to completion, with the current workforce, apprentices, supply chain and project plan?

The hon. Lady will be aware that this Government have made it clear that anyone turning up to work on those schemes through subcontractors will continue to be paid in the normal way. It is important to get that message out there, and not to spread misinformation or misunderstanding about it.

The problem with the Minister’s reply is that the vultures are already circling over the Carillion contract carcases, which will place these projects into future risk, not least as companies such as Interserve and Mitie have had profit warnings served in the last six months. So what due diligence has he instructed officials to undertake of all contractors, and will he end his market speculation by taking these contracts back in house?

Had the hon. Lady done her homework, she would know that there is almost no exposure to the rail sector through the companies that she mentioned. The fact of the matter is that the contracts have often been reinforced and proofed. Certainly on the road side, which I obviously know best—I can refer her question to the rail Minister—we have joint-venture partners that are jointly and severally obliged to pick up these obligations, and they will do so.