[Relevant Documents: Written evidence to the Transport Committee, on the Department for Transport Supplementary Estimates 2017–18, reported to the House and published on 20 February 2018; Oral evidence taken before the Transport Committee on 16 October 2017, on Policy priorities for the Department for Transport, HC 430; Oral evidence taken before the Transport Committee on 22 January 2018, on Rail Electrification, HC 702.]
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, for the year ending with 31 March 2018, for expenditure by the Department for Transport:
(1) further resources, not exceeding £268,829,000, be authorised for use for current purposes as set out in HC 808,
(2) further resources, not exceeding £753,858,000, be authorised for use for capital purposes as so set out, and
(3) the sum authorised for issue out of the Consolidated Fund be reduced by £551,337,000.—(Amanda Milling.)
I thank Members from on both sides of the House for their support for this debate, including my hon. Friends the Members for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) and for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter), who so ably gave the presentation on the debate before the Backbench Business Committee, as I was not able to attend. The range of support confirms that the Department for Transport’s spending priorities are of national concern across party lines and in every region of the United Kingdom. Whether it is on rail franchising or transport investment, I think that the Department is giving passengers and taxpayers a raw deal.
Given this breadth of interest, I am disappointed that the Transport Secretary has not come to the Chamber to hear this afternoon’s debate. I recall that he was also unable to attend our Back-Bench debate on transport in the north on 6 November. I am, however, very pleased to see the shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald), in the Chamber, and it is also good to see the Minister of State, Department for Transport, the hon. Member for Orpington (Joseph Johnson), who will respond for the Government. As well as representing the London seat of Orpington, he serves as the Minister for London, and I note in passing that not one Minister in the Department represents a northern seat, and not one represents a seat outside England.
I want to highlight the significant, long-standing problems with how we run our transport services and invest in transport infrastructure. I also want to press the case for a bolder, more ambitious approach to transport spending that leaves no citizen, no nation and, crucially, no region behind, and that will boost economic efficiency and growth post Brexit.
The international evidence paints a stark and disappointing picture. Britain’s infrastructure spending is the lowest of any developed country in the OECD. The inequality between our regions, measured according to gross valued added, is the widest in Europe, and our national productivity, as we all know, is low compared with other countries. These problems cannot be solved without better transport investment, and without better north-south and—very importantly—east-west connectivity.
Experts from the Institute for Public Policy Research North to the Centre for Cities, and from the National Infrastructure Commission to the authors of the northern powerhouse independent economic review, are all agreed that we cannot increase productivity and close the gap between our regions unless we dramatically upgrade our transport infrastructure and make up for decades of under-investment. This requires an ambitious investment programme for every corner of the country. In northern England, that means investing in bus services, not cutting them; dramatically reducing rail journey times; increasing rail capacity for passengers and freight; and modernising our rolling stock.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. The north-east received just 2.7% of overall public spending on transport from 2012 to 2017, compared with the 38.3% that London and the south-east received. Does she agree that the north has little chance of fulfilling its true potential if that unacceptable imbalance continues?
I thank my hon. Friend for that point—I was just about to come to it—and agree absolutely.
If we are serious, such an ambitious investment programme means plugging what IPPR North has calculated to be a £36 billion gap in transport spending between London and the north, and accepting and building on Transport for the North’s plans for our region. Those plans would, by 2050, not only create 850,000 jobs, but partly pay for themselves by reducing the north’s fiscal deficit by 47% compared with business as usual.
A new approach to running transport services is also required. We need an approach on managing transport that works for fare-paying passengers, not dividend-troughing shareholders. Rail operators that mismanage services and threaten to default on their franchises cannot get away with it. Taxpayers’ money and fare revenues should be spent on transport investment, not on bailing out private companies that recklessly over-bid. Regions outside London need statutory, sub-national transport bodies with the same clout and borrowing powers as Transport for London. To be fair, the problems I have just outlined are not all the fault of the Transport Secretary or the Department for Transport, as many relate to the actions of successive Governments of all colours stretching back over many decades. However, the Secretary of State is responsible for what happens on his watch, and we are entitled to hold Ministers to account for the steps they take—or fail to take—to tackle these problems.
I have four questions for the Minister. First, how does he intend to act on auditors’ criticism of the effectiveness of a range of transport bodies and projects? The National Audit Office has been scathing about the performance of Highways England’s 2015 to 2020 road investment strategy, highlighting the fact that many of the promised road investments are considerably behind schedule. Network Rail’s operations have also been subject to long-standing NAO criticism. The NAO has also turned its sights on the Department’s role in a range of projects and franchises, not least the Thames garden bridge in October 2016. What will the Government do about these criticisms?
Secondly, in the wake of the east coast debacle, the Government need to answer pressing questions about the state of our rail franchising system. The recent problems with the Stagecoach-Virgin Trains east coast franchise risk undermining the whole franchising process. The situation sends a message to future bidders that they can get their sums wrong and over-bid, but still get a bail-out to the tune of perhaps more than £1 billion. The Secretary of State’s subsequent decision to extend Virgin Trains’ west coast franchise only reinforces that concern.
Last month, the NAO rightly announced an independent investigation of what had happened. Subsequently, on 5 February, the Transport Secretary came to the House with stern words about Stagecoach, but no concrete assurances that it would not win a future bid. I must say to the Minister that that stands in stark contrast to the swift, decisive action taken by Lord Adonis after National Express threatened to default on the same franchise in 2009.
This debacle also exposes huge problems with the broken franchising system. As has been shown by the answers to parliamentary questions that I have tabled, there have been fewer bids for rail franchises in recent years than was the case at the start of the decade. Since 2012, 13 franchises have been directly awarded without the promised competition.
Thirdly, if the Transport Secretary is so confident about the benefits of his transport upgrade programme and the scrapping of electrification, why will he not spell out the exact benefits it will bring? Last year, when he scrapped all electrification plans—outside the south-east, of course—in favour of bimodal diesel-electric technology, he assured Members in a written ministerial statement that
“we no longer need to electrify every line to achieve the same significant improvements to journeys”.—[Official Report, 20 July 2017; Vol. 627, c. 71WS.]
So why have Transport Ministers proved unable to answer my very specific written questions about the exact travel speed improvements, ongoing financial costs and emissions that passengers can expect from the new bimodal trains?
The Government said recently that they wanted to see the elimination of diesel traction on our railways in a few years. How can they achieve that if they are going to cancel all the electrification schemes?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I hope that the Minister will respond to it.
While Ministers have admitted that following the scrapping of electrification the ongoing costs will be higher than they would have been with electric trains, they have refused to say by how much or what that will mean for future ticket prices. Although I have been told that the environmental impact of bimodal trains has been “taken into account”, I am not sure that an environmental assessment has been undertaken. It seems that big decisions are made in the apparent absence of basic information.
It is also astonishing that we still do not know the future of trans-Pennine electrification. No official announcement has been made since the Transport Secretary cast doubt on the project during a media appearance in July 2017. I acknowledge that the rolling stock is being upgraded, but the very companies that are supplying it tell me that without improvements to the tracks, they will not be able to get anywhere near their maximum speeds. The developers at Great Western Railway have warned that its bimodal trains will be slower in diesel mode than the ones that they will replace. I hope that the Minister will commit himself this evening to an urgent, independent assessment of the impact of scrapping electrification.
I agree with a great deal of what the hon. Lady is saying, particularly her comments about the appalling east-west journey times in this country, which are a national disgrace, but the fault of generations of Governments who failed to invest. May I urge her to add a fifth question to her list? Community transport is an issue of huge concern, given the proposals on which the Department is consulting. Never mind getting from city to city; what worries many of my constituents is the potential devastation of community transport if those proposals go ahead.
I shall be pleased to add that to my list of questions. The hon. Gentleman has been very clear about the subject on which he wants the Minister to respond.
My final point is about the need to tackle regional inequality in transport spending. Analysis produced by the House of Commons Library earlier this month shows that in the five years since 2012, London has received more than twice as much per head as the north. The figures for future projected spending look even worse. According to the latest analysis from IPPR North, London will receive £4,155 per head over the next four years, while Yorkshire and the Humber will receive £844 per head. The Transport Secretary could have responded to those figures with the candid acceptance of a problem going back over many years and by making a commitment to close the regional gap. Instead, he has sought to play down the disparity.
In an article in The Yorkshire Post in January, the Transport Secretary criticised IPPR North for including all Transport for London’s spending in its analysis, because many London and south-east schemes attract private funding. This is precisely the reason why northern MPs want a statutory body with the same borrowing powers as TfL: to boost private investment for road and rail schemes to go alongside a fairer share of state funding. The creation of Transport for the North, while welcome, will not correct that inequity—or certainly not any time soon. Its focus on 2050 means that many south-east schemes that are more advanced in their planning, such as Crossrail 2 and the Oxford-Cambridge growth corridor, will happen many years earlier than Transport for the North’s vision. Indeed, as I pointed out to the Minister during the passage of the Space Industry Bill, we are more likely to see commercial space travel than rail electrification to Hull before 2050.
In conclusion, I believe that the Secretary of State has questions to answer about the scathing National Audit Office report into spending by the Department for Transport. I also believe that he has wavered in his response to problems with the east coast franchise and let Stagecoach and Virgin Trains off the hook. He has scrapped rail electrification plans across the north, the midlands, the south-west and Wales, and failed to back up claims that those cuts will deliver the same benefits as electrification. He has also dismissed concerns about regional inequality in transport investment, even though such investment is vital for our national economic productivity and growth. As a northern MP, I am not asking what this country can do for the north; I am asking what the north can do for this country. It is time that the Transport Secretary and the Department for Transport also asked themselves that question.
Order. I thank the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) for giving the House a perfect example of keeping exactly to time. However, as the House will be aware, a great many people wish to speak this afternoon, so we now need to have a formal time limit of five minutes, which might well have to be reduced.
It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), who has made a clear case for the vital role of transport infrastructure across our country. I want to talk specifically about the great county of Essex and our transport needs today. You will know, Madam Deputy Speaker, that Essex contributes more than £38 billion in gross value added to the UK economy, but with investment in transport infrastructure, we have the potential to do so much more.
I want to focus today on strategic rail and strategic road investments. Essex and East Anglia have historically missed out on funding from central Government sources. As a country, we are investing more in the railways since the Victorian era—something we should be proud of—with public and private sector funds making a significant contribution. Investment in the rail network now could put our economy in an even stronger position as we look to future-proof and grow our economy accordingly. Much of the investment in rail infrastructure comes from the public purse, and last year the Government announced their statement of funds available—famously known as SOFA—which totals £47.9 billion for control period 6, which covers from 2019 to 2024. That level of investment is of course welcome, and it is possible only because of this Government’s record on sound finances and the strong economy.
Within the Greater Anglia region, Network Rail’s route manager is seeking more than £2 billion of that funding for the Anglia route. My hon. Friend the Minister of State will be well aware of the bids that are coming through, and I hope that the Government will look favourably on that particular request. However, that investment would be for renewals and maintenance, and it would not include major strategic enhancements. Because of the changes that the Government are making, major infrastructure schemes are determined through a new process rather than through multi-year strategic control periods.
The great eastern main line needs significant improvements, and I know that the Department is well and truly versed in its needs, because Members of Parliament from Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, north Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire came together through the GEML Taskforce to develop a prospectus for rail investment. That prospectus, published in 2014, was supported by the Government, including the former Chancellor, and contained a number of long-term proposals to improve services particularly for our long-suffering commuters, including new trains, which are coming, and, importantly, infrastructure enhancements such as the Witham loops to boost capacity, the Trowse swing bridge, upgrades to Hawley junction, re-signalling south of Colchester, improvements to Liverpool Street station and other schemes that can no longer be kicked into the long grass.
Investing in these schemes will add over £4 billion to our economy, meaning more jobs, more income for families and more revenue for the Exchequer. That is based on a 2014 analysis, and I am sure a more recent review of the figures, given the additional housing supply in that part of Essex and in East Anglia, will project a greater boost.
Passengers who use the GEML pay more in fares each year, and over the next few years they will be subsidising the rest of the rail network by providing the Treasury with a £3.7 billion windfall. We would like to see that money coming back for long-term investments, because it is rail users in the region who are paying for that. They are contributing hugely and want to see the benefits coming back within the region. It is a complete “no-brainer.” The Government and the Chancellor spoke favourably about this at questions today and understand the significance of it all.
I also want to touch on the two roads that impact on Essex: the A12 and the A120, which connects Stansted to Harwich. They are economic corridors, and delays and congestion on them hold business back, costing companies millions of pounds each year. These roads have been earmarked for widening schemes, but they are subject to various processes within the Department for Transport, and I plead with the Minister to ensure we unblock any bottlenecks to those schemes.
As we consider the supply estimates today, I urge the Minister and the Government to ensure that these schemes can progress and are developed for the long-term benefit of the east of England.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) on securing this debate on the spending of the Department for Transport, and I welcome this new format for estimates day debates. I will make a few points, and pose a couple of questions about the supplementary estimate, which I hope the Minister will address in his speech.
When we look at the Department’s spending and the announcements it makes, it would be easy to think that transport is about large infrastructure projects. Infrastructure is an important enabler, of course, but we must not lose sight of the outcome we want: it is about how people travel from place to place, how they get to work, and how they get to places to learn and study, and for leisure and for family and social life. Access to good transport opportunities enhances our quality of life, and its absence can lead to social exclusion and isolation.
Just two weeks ago, BBC analysis showed that the bus network is shrinking to levels last seen in the 1980s. Rising car use and cuts to public funding are being blamed for a loss of 134 million miles of coverage over the past decade alone, leaving communities with isolated residents unable to access the most basic services, such as getting to a health appointment or making a shopping trip. The Bus Services Act 2017 might help in some places, so what work have Ministers done to understand the effect of that shrinking bus network, and what impact is this having on other Departments, such as the Department of Health and the Department for Work and Pensions, in terms of people’s ability to get to jobs, training or education opportunities? What are the Government doing to address those problems?
The second major concern to our constituents is the diabolical state of local roads. I will come on to issues around the strategic road network, but almost every journey starts and ends on local roads. This issue is raised time and again on the doorstep, and not just when I am talking to local residents in Nottingham, as there is a huge backlog across the whole country. The Department provides money to local authorities for local roads, including a pothole fund. It would be helpful if the Minister said something about the steps that the Department takes to ensure the value for money of the investment that it makes in local roads, because the current patch-and-make-good approach does not seem to be sustainable. My hon. Friends on the Front Bench have rightly called on the Government to fix it first. Yes, that would be a start, but I would say, fix it properly.
Scrutiny of the Department is vital. The National Audit Office has done some excellent work in providing an overview of the Department’s work and identified several key areas for improvement. The NAO’s work on the first road investment strategy found that that the Department developed it before having a complete understanding of whether the 112 road enhancement schemes in the portfolio represented best overall value. As we come on to the second road investment programme, Highways England and the Department need to show that they are doing more to understand the value of the investments they are making and the steps needed to secure the wider economic benefits.
That is probably even more true of the rail investment programme. The work to modernise the great western railway has shown that the Department did not have a secure understanding of the costs of and schedule for electrification. That led to a reprogramming of the investment plans for control period 5. Electrification between Maidenhead and Cardiff is now expected to cost £2.8 billion—a 70% increase against the estimated cost of the programme in 2014. We know what a terrible impact that has had on the rest of the work in CP 5 that has either had to be cancelled or rolled over into CP 6. The Department has many questions to answer on that. What has been learned will have been lost through the cancellation of that work and will potentially have to be relearned all over again.
Many questions arise from these supplementary estimates that need to be answered. I look forward, on the Transport Committee, to asking Ministers those questions and receiving answers.
This debate will, I am sure, unite the House in wanting more transport investment. We are chronically short of capacity of transport of all kinds in our country. That is true in the north as well as the south; in the east as well as the west. Many MPs will make good cases for their own requirements.
I am particularly optimistic about the UK economy once we leave the European Union—above all, because I look forward to spending the £12 billion a year that we currently have to send abroad. Spending that money at home will mean that jobs and activity come from it. That generates more tax revenue but also, above all, takes some of the intense pressures off the public budgets that have been particularly acute since the banking crash and the big cuts made at the end of the previous decade. Those cuts by the outgoing Government were particularly harsh on capital investment in things like transport. We all look forward to these budgets easing a bit and to the extra tax revenue that growth would bring.
But growth also brings the need for more transport investment. We are very conscious of that in my own area of the country, Berkshire. We need investment in road and rail capacity to catch up with all the additional houses, jobs and business investment that there has been over the past 20 years. We particularly need more road capacity, because in the first half of that 20-year period we had practically no road capital or road schemes approved by the then Government. Only now are we beginning to get a bit of the investment that we need to catch up. We will need substantial further investment because the Government look to parts of the country like Berkshire to carry on with very fast rates of growth in housing development and business development, which in turn will require that extra capacity.
Looking first at rail capacity, I urge the Minister to spend what are obviously limited budgets on two particular priorities. The first is digital signalling. We run only about 20 trains an hour on the very good track networks that we already have. We could easily get up to 25—a 25% increase in capacity—with modern digital signalling, and probably go well above that if we developed and improved the technology. We could also put in a few bypass links of track where we need more of those because we run a mixed railway and it would be better to have more places where fast trains could safely overtake slow trains providing a local service. That would deal with a lot of the capacity problem. Producing extra capacity by building new tracks is expensive and causes environmental problems, and people are not keen to have new tracks going past their front windows or back doors. I urge the Minister to concentrate his money on where we can get the quickest and cheapest results, which is through much better control systems and new types of rolling stock with the right ratio between carriage weight and braking capability so that we can run many more trains an hour.
We then come to road capacity. In my local area we particularly welcome the idea that councils are being invited to establish, with the Government, local strategic highway networks. Those council-controlled roads will be part of a wider scheme that allows access to bigger sums of money so that the roads can provide some kind of back-up or alternative to the main national highway network of motorways and trunk roads. My councils are working on that and are keen to be part of the bidding process, because we need local networks of main A-roads that have more capacity, better junctions, safer junctions and more ability to route cars and vans from place to place so that people can get their children to school, go about their business and carry on their work by using road-based transport to make their day more efficient.
We also need to ensure that the main highway network is well managed by the state, and I hope future smart motorway programmes can be done a bit faster and a bit cheaper. The current programmes are clunky. They are desirable, but it seems to take rather a long time to get the extra lane of a smart motorway into use.
I also hope the Minister and his colleagues will look at sea transport. We have some potentially great ports—they are good ports already—so let us have a free ports scheme for those who would like to promote more industry and development adjacent to the ports. Let us make sure there are better road links into the leading ports, and let us see what we can do about coastal shipping. That could be a good way of relieving some of the intense pressures on the coastal highways, which leave a lot to be desired on many parts of our beautiful coastline.
Please, Minister, we need much more capacity. Let us try to spend the money more wisely, and let us move quickly to a world in which we have more money to spend.
I rise to raise two concerns. The first is about the ending of the operating grant for Transport for London, which is already beginning to have a significant impact on upgrades to the network, not least to the Jubilee line, and increases the prospect of the extension of the night tube to the Metropolitan line being much further delayed than originally planned.
Given that last time the Conservatives were fully in charge of transport in London my constituents saw a 60% increase in the cost of commuting into central London, it seems particularly unfair that, just as a Labour Mayor takes over in London, a second whammy should hit funding for Transport for London.
The bulk of my remarks will focus on a much less high profile part of the transport sector that does not see significant funding in the estimates, although it does see some funding. As the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) rightly said when he intervened on my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), who so ably introduced this debate, the community transport sector faces a devastating impact as a result of the Government’s proposed changes.
I am lucky enough to chair the Co-operative party, which has long campaigned under its people’s bus campaign for an expansion of the not-for-profit or social enterprise bus sector. The Co-op party believes that community transport and commercial bus routes should be able to be designated as community assets and should be subject to the same protections that community assets are afforded by the Localism Act 2011.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) is not alone on the Government Benches in agreeing with those points. I agree that community transport is very important, particularly to people in rural areas.
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s intervention. If the Minister is not willing to listen to me and to Opposition Members who share these deep worries about the impact on community transport, I hope he will listen to the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy). I hope the Minister will also pay further attention to the Transport Committee, which did an excellent piece of work on this sector.
Community transport is too often overlooked. It provides vital connections within urban and rural communities. Tens of thousands of people across the UK are reliant on community transport services for some of the most socially necessary journeys that have to be made. Many of the people who use community transport are among the most vulnerable in our communities, so the Government’s announcement that they were seeking to change the regulation under which the sector has been operating was met with shock, and it has placed many services under direct threat. Indeed, Enfield Community Transport has closed, partly as a result of the uncertainty arising from the Government’s announcement. I hope it is not too late for Ministers to find a way to back off from the drastic changes they are proposing.
What does community transport cover? It covers door-to-door transport, ranging from the relatively informal lift giving by volunteer car drivers to more organised schemes such as a Dial-a-Ride or Dial-a-Bus for people with disabilities and mobility difficulties. It involves community bus services and covers minibus travel for groups of people such as the elderly or others who struggle to get out and about on their own, where they are taken on shopping trips and such like. I understand that just one small group of commercial bus operators, led by one individual, which wants to cherry-pick community transport contracts provided by local authorities and the NHS, and which does not put anything back into the local area, has somehow managed to persuade Ministers that new rules are needed to interpret EU regulations affecting the drivers and licensing of community transport. I urge Ministers to rethink their support for this group of individuals and to reassert the importance of community transport.
Harrow Community Transport serves my constituents and is very worried about whether it will be able to survive if more of its drivers are required to undergo expensive and lengthy training of the sort that commercial bus and coach companies have to provide.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that a letter of clarification was issued in November, which, if it holds true, will solve all the issues caused by Mr Fidler’s letter in July? The danger is that there is still a consultation, so who knows where it could end up?
If the November letter is symbolic of a Government wanting to sort out the problems in a positive way to ensure that community transport can survive and prosper, I of course welcome that. My sense is that the Transport Committee was not wholly convinced of that and of whether Ministers had yet got that fully correct. Perhaps the Committee will be able to haul the relevant Minister before it again to seek further clarification on that, or perhaps the Minister here today will be able to provide further reassurance.
Harrow Community Transport has been in operation for more than 40 years in one guise or another, and as a stand-alone charity and social enterprise since 1980. It has a fleet of 14 minibuses and wheelchair-accessible cars, carrying more than 30,000 passengers annually. It employs 12 full-time and part-time drivers, six passenger assistants, and has more than 40 volunteer drivers and a small admin team. It provides a community car service and a wayfarers’ club, which helps to provide access to places of interest for those living alone or in sheltered housing. I underline the point that those who run Harrow Community Transport, and have done so with great pride for a long time, remain profoundly disturbed by Ministers’ proposals. It is on that, in particular, that I seek clarity from the Minister today.
I share the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) about the threat to community transport services. When this debate was listed, I was immediately contacted by David Ouvry, the chairman of our redoubted Chilterns Dial-a-Ride, because he is so concerned about the implications. We understand that the move away from permits and towards public service vehicle operator licences and passenger carrying vehicle driver certificates was precipitated by a commercial operator’s complaint about some competitive tendering. Nevertheless, if the proposals go ahead, the impact will be severe.
Chilterns Dial-a-Ride has a team of seven part-time paid drivers and 15 volunteer drivers, and the chairman and treasurer are volunteers as well. The staff have received thorough and high-standard training, which is regularly updated, and there are several hundred paid-up user-members. The team runs trips and outings and does some 13,000 to 14,000 passenger journeys a year—well over 1,000 a month. If all its drivers had to pass a PCV test, Chilterns Dial-a-Ride would almost certainly lose all its precious and essential volunteers. The same is likely to apply to most of, if not all, the paid drivers.
Even if we assume that the drivers would accept that they had to be PCV-trained and passed, the costs look astronomical for a small charity of this size. With 22 drivers, apparently 60%—or 13—would pass the first time, at a cost of £28,366, and paying for the remainder to pass the second time would lift the training costs up to a total of £50,704. Costs in excess of £50,000 would absolutely devastate Chilterns Dial-a-Ride, so when the Minister looks into this—I am aware that there is currently a consultation, to which Chilterns Dial-a-Ride has submitted its views—will he think again? Were we to lose such a facility in our community, it would not be the best use of taxpayers’ money, and it would certainly not be the best use of the Department’s time.
I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) that we all welcome investment in infrastructure. Of course, for me, it has to be the right type of infrastructure. I could not let a transport debate go by without mentioning my pet project. I looked carefully at the figures, which show that the proposed changes in the supplementary estimate to the current departmental expenditure limit is around £308 million. I gather that the rise in costs is largely attributable to the need to cover an extra £265 million of High Speed 2 VAT costs. That prompts the question: how was that missed? I hope the Minister will be able to let me know what the accounting responsibilities are that mean an extra £265 million of VAT has to be added.
I am concerned about the governance of HS2. The chairman of the project is leaving and the Department is recruiting yet another, and we have another new Minister on the project. After listening to the directors of Carillion this morning, I am not quite sure whether the Department for Transport actually has either the capacity to manage the project—although HS2 Ltd is an arm’s length body—or the procurement expertise to avoid facing the problems it is now facing because of the collapse of Carillion. I hope the Department has assessed the financial impact of the loss of Carillion from its contractual position. Is it looking into whether aggressive bidding has occurred on any other projects?
I wish quickly to mention two other things. First, with this inclement weather, I pay tribute to the transport teams that are gritting and keeping our roads going throughout the country, particularly those in Buckinghamshire. I have a plea for extra money: in the past six weeks, Buckinghamshire has reported 3,600 potholes, and I am sure the number is increasing as I stand here. Although the Government have put in an extra £200 million, there is no doubt that many councils, and many Members in the Chamber who represent councils, would welcome further investment. It is all very well to look into road capacity, but we must also consider the conditions of our roads.
Finally, on the Department’s priorities, what is it doing about hyperloop technology and, particularly, electric vehicle technology? The Department has to co-operate with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and any cross-departmental work is difficult. Will it please put those new technologies at the top of its list of priorities?
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) for securing this debate through the Backbench Business Committee and providing Members with an opportunity to hold the Government to account on their spending. I am particularly pleased that we are debating the supplementary estimates for the Department for Transport, because I have frequently raised the issue of regional transport disparities in the House, and at the heart of this is the question of funding.
Put simply, the way the Department currently allocates and spends money is deeply unfair. It is unfair because its decisions on where to invest are based on a narrow and ultimately unsatisfactory value-for-money assessment. If the Government target transport spending in areas of high economic development or places where people already use public transport extensively, they are reinforcing inequalities rather than correcting them. Transport spending needs to be used as a tool for unlocking economic potential, and of course investment in public transport is one of the key ways of encouraging people to use it.
Bradford, like towns and cities across the north, is held back by a persistent lack of investment in our transport infrastructure. In recent months we have seen the cancellation of many rail electrification projects, the postponement of essential motorway upgrades in Yorkshire, and combined authorities forced to reduce bus services owing to continuing budget cuts.
The north as a whole, and Yorkshire in particular, is getting a raw deal. Recent analysis by the Institute for Public Policy Research North has found that the true extent of regional spending disparity is considerably higher than the Government’s estimates. Under this analysis, future transport investment in London is 2.6 times higher per person than in the north. London is set to receive over £4,000 per person, compared with just £1,600 per person across the north as a whole. The situation is set to be even worse in Yorkshire, the lowest of all regions according to IPPR North, where the figure is just £844 per person.
The Government’s future spending plans therefore fail to address the historical under-investment in northern transport and infrastructure. Addressing the historical underfunding in Yorkshire will require step-by-step increases in per-person levels of funding until they are equal to those in London. The ambition to create a northern powerhouse and rebalance our national economy will remain unmet for as long as the current funding disparities in transport remain in place.
Let me be clear that I have little to no problem with the Government investing in London’s transport system; I believe that all regions benefit from a modern and extensive public transport system. What I do have a problem with are the gross inequities between different parts of the country. These inequities have real consequences for my constituents. Bradford, a city of over half a million people, with a young and enterprising population and home to some of the country’s best known companies, does not have a through railway station and is not directly on an inter-city network. This means that train journeys between Bradford and Leeds take over 20 minutes and average only 33 mph. Is it any wonder that nearly 75% of the 45,000 journeys between Bradford and Leeds each day are made by car? Bradford’s unsatisfactory rail link is a perfect example of the wider problem. For too long, ambitious transport projects in the north have been passed over, while billions have been spent on similar projects down south.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful case about the need for regional rebalancing. Does she agree that the Department for Transport needs to make changes to the transport business case methodology so that it takes account of the wider economic benefits that can flow from investment in transport, rather than just journey time savings for large numbers of existing transport users?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, as always.
The establishment of the first sub-national transport body, Transport for the North, is a welcome step in correcting the regional imbalance, and I am particularly pleased that its strategic plan includes details of the northern powerhouse railway, including a new station in Bradford. In order to make this plan a reality, the Government must ensure that Transport for the North has the powers and, crucially, the money it needs. One way to quickly and effectively start making progress would be to unpick the skewed value-for-money formula used by the Department for Transport to make investment decisions, and to create a new formula that stops favouring areas with historically high levels of investment.
Bradford and the north face particular challenges and opportunities, and these opportunities require real action by the Government. Above all, they require a real financial commitment from the Government in order to address the historical level of underfunding of transport in the north. This is the only way to unlock the north’s economic potential and to put fairness back into our transport system.
May I start by thanking you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for your kindness in allowing me not to wear my jacket while I nurse my broken arm? I must confess that it is a transport-related injury. I tripped and fell while running to catch a tram, which is rather embarrassing given that I chair the all-party parliamentary light rail group.
In the short time available, I will make some general points about the quality of transport debates that we have in this country. I have been involved in transport debates for almost all the time that I have been in this House, either on the Select Committee on Transport or as the Minister’s Parliamentary Private Secretary. I sometimes find these debates rather depressing because this country is very good at finding reasons not to do something.
The Transport Committee is currently giving scrutiny to the airport national policy statement about whether we should have a third runway at Heathrow. I do not want to prejudge the outcome of our inquiry, but we were presented with a whole series of arguments as to why it should not happen. Had the recommendation been that we should expand Gatwick, different people would have made the same arguments. Time and again the decision on where to build extra airport capacity would be kicked into the long grass.
Just outside my constituency boundary is a lovely little village called Cublington. I mention it because it featured in the Roskill commission, which 50 years ago started its inquiry about the location of extra airport capacity in the south-east, and we are still debating that half a century later. It was the same with HS1. Before it was built, it was going to scar the garden of England. Now that it is up and running, there are few objections. Indeed, people want extra stations on the line. When I researched the HS2 debate, I found out that this House voted against the west coast main line in the 19th century because it deemed that canals would be a perfectly adequate means of intercity transport. As we consider where we are going to invest vast sums of money—both public and private—in order to upgrade our transport network, please let us do so with a vision of what can be done; do not find constant arguments as to why it should not happen.
I turn to rail in particular. Now, there are problems with franchising. I am not going to defend the system in its entirety, as it is one that needs to evolve. But when there is a problem, the answer is not just to criticise the whole system and say that we have to renationalise everything. Those who advocate mass nationalisation might care to read the words of the French Prime Minister talking about state-run SNCF today:
“The dilapidated network, delays, abysmal debt…The situation is…untenable. The French…pay more…for a public service that works less and less well”.
The point is that there are good and bad in all forms of transport. We need to raise our game and think about what works, not get involved in ideological debates.
Similarly, every year we hear this argument that fare increases are the fault of the privatised system, yet there were inflation-busting fare increases year after year under nationalised British Rail. The debate is on the mix between what the farebox provides for revenue and what central taxation provides. There is a legitimate argument both ways, but let us get away from the stale argument every year that it is the fault of the private sector and that nationalisation would be wonderful.
I do not wish to get into the argument about why franchising is not currently working, but does the hon. Gentleman share my concerns that the supplementary estimates show that receipts are expected to be £248.6 million lower than expected? Although the Treasury is providing an extra £60 million to partially offset that, £188 million of income still needs to be found from existing budgets. Does he share my hope that the Minister will address where that money in going to come from given the shortfall in revenues from franchises?
Revenues go up and down; it is very difficult to forward-plan the income from a railway. The Virgin Trains East Coast situation is not a problem of a line losing money or failing on passenger satisfaction. It is making money—just not as much as was forecast. That is one of the reforms of the franchising system that I wish to see.
Look at Network Rail—a public body. It has problems and has mismanaged some projects, Great Western electrification being the prime example. However, let us also praise it when it gets things right. The Reading and Nottingham station upgrades have been a success and many other projects have been delivered on time and on budget. No system is intrinsically bad or good. My point today is that we should raise the quality of the discussion and not get locked into this stale old debate that too often plagues transport discourse in this country.
My final point in the few seconds that remain is please let us put the passenger front and centre of our conversations. Too often, the transport industry works in silos: it looks at what the rail or bus provision is. We have to look at door-to-door transport, embrace new technology and the opportunities that it brings. When we invest in new trains—enormous numbers of new rolling stock will be coming on to the network in the next couple of years—let us make them comfortable. Technologically, they are brilliant but a lot of them are dashed uncomfortable. Let us put the passenger first and raise our game with a proper debate about how we invest in and improve our transport infrastructure.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) on securing this debate. If my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) and I were of any assistance, it was, as usual, as her obedient servants in this matter. She made a compelling case for her own region, but I am delighted that she does not argue that we should rob Peter to pay Paul—take resources from my region, for example.
Rather than use my own words to talk about transport spending in London, I shall quote the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard), Transport Minister until last month and not, I suggest, partisan in favour of the Labour London Mayor. He said last October that spend per head was a bad indication when judging the effectiveness of transport spending:
“The calculation for London…doesn’t account for the substantial number of daily commuters and visitors, both domestically and internationally, who will be using and benefitting from the roads and public transport networks but who aren’t London residents…two in every three rail journeys start or end in London and there are eighteen times more passengers arriving into London during a typical morning peak than at Manchester, the busiest northern city. In particular, as the main international gateway into and out of the country, London will be the location for transport investments which look to serve passengers well beyond the local resident population.”
Indeed, there are severe funding problems in London, and my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West mentioned the most pressing: the withdrawal of the entirety of the operational grant—£700 million. What other capital city would that be true of? But that is only where it all begins; we now hear that the money raised from vehicle excise duty in London, some £500 million, will also be spent only on roads outside the capital from 2021.
It feels sometimes as though these decisions are spiteful rather than strategic. The current Transport Secretary is perfectly happy to overspend his budget by £300 million—including, as the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Dame Cheryl Gillan) said, £260 million on VAT for HS2. He said that we could not make adjustments to the system of penalty notices in London, which would have raised £80 million within our own resources. He also refused to allow the suburban rail service to be incorporated. That would have been more efficient and was supported by a number of Conservative MPs in the capital.
Does my hon. Friend also think it is regrettable that the Department for Transport has blocked London from accessing the new national clean air fund, given the scale of problems that diesel is causing, particularly in central and outer London?
Order. I do not want to stop the debate, but I am going to have to drop the time limit to four minutes for the next speaker. The way we are going, it will have to go down to three to get everyone in. I am bothered about that, so can Members who have already spoken bear that in mind?
I will just say that I entirely agree with my hon. Friend and will not take any further interventions.
I will give one example of how politics, rather than good sense, is governing the way that London is dealt with. It is a local example, but I think it is a good case in point. I am sure that many Members have visited the Olympia exhibition centre, an excellent Victorian centre that has been going for 100 years, serving the people of the country, not just London. Until seven years ago, it had a dedicated timetabled tube service. In response to lobbying by Conservative Members to take trains away from that part of the service and put it on to the Wimbledon part of the District line, we lost that service, despite the fact that because of development, up to 8 million visitors will be going there and it is in the most densely populated part of London.
We have to start taking sensible decisions. That is what the Mayor of London is doing. He has frozen tube fares, which were going up too quickly, for four years. He has introduced the hopper fare, which means that people changing from one bus to another do not have to pay extra. That has benefited 140 million journeys so far. He has introduced the night tube, which the previous Mayor failed to. He has reduced strike days by 65%, and he has, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West indicated, done a lot for not just walking and cycling but increasing zero-emissions vehicles and, indeed, the whole green agenda in London. Last year, he also reduced operating costs for Transport for London by £150 million in a single year.
I will briefly turn to more strategic matters. We have some major developments in London. I am a supporter of HS2, notwithstanding the disruption it is causing to my constituency and neighbouring ones, because it is one of those great transport projects that I believe the country needs. I agree, as I quite often do, with the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham that the execution of the project leaves a great deal to be desired.
I declare an interest, because HS2 is bringing a lot of jobs and homes to my constituency, and it is co-ordinating with Crossrail, which is bringing a £42 billion benefit to the UK economy. We need Crossrail. We also need Crossrail 2. I remind anybody who thinks it is a new scheme that it is the Chelsea to Hackney line from the 1970s. Far from building these great infrastructure schemes in a way that is controversial, we delay for years and sometimes decades in doing so.
Finally, one strategic project that I think is a terrible error of judgment is the expansion of Heathrow. We now know that its commercial benefit is half what the Airports Commission said. It is less than Gatwick, and the net present value of it is about zero over the 60 years. Public infrastructure, in terms of road and rail, could cost up to £18 billion. Despite paying a huge dividend to its shareholders, Heathrow is only prepared to put £1 billion of that in.
The expansion will have terrible consequences in terms of noise and air pollution. We must think again about that. I know that the shadow Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald), is applying the four tests of the Labour party and doing exactly that.
Order. I call Sir Robert Syms. You have four minutes.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I would like to support what the Government broadly are doing, which is to try to increase spending in the transport sector.
Transport is one of the few areas where the Government are necessary to get projects built. In the UK, sometimes I wish we were rather more French in getting on with major public sector projects. If we look at the miracle of California, it was built on state funding of highways, universities and armaments, and on that, the private sector miracles around Stanford University and Palo Alto were built. Unless the Government get on and invest in our strategic road network and many other roads, private sector companies and businesses cannot develop.
I grew up very near to the M4, which was built when I was quite young. It has had a major transforming effect on the communities around it. The economic benefits of a sensible road programme are self-evident. As an MP from the south of England who drives on the M25, the M4, the M3 and occasionally other such roads in the south, it is clear to me that the whole of the motorway network is under pressure. At the beginning of the day, nearly all the road junctions have tailbacks on to the motorways, so they require added investment.
The road network represents billions of pounds of historical investment. If we concentrated on dualling, bypasses and dealing with pinch points, the economic value to our country would be very substantial indeed. It just needs a little bit of common sense, and we could get a lot more out of the road network. I am a believer in that, and we need to be doing more if, post-Brexit, we are going to keep the British economy rolling on. There must be a major cost when we have tailbacks off motorway junctions sometimes for 5, 6 or 7 miles, and the Government really need to deal with that.
I am also a believer in the need to invest in some major strategic projects. I agree with the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) that HS2 will make a major difference. If we look at where the investment is going, we find it is at Euston and Old Oak Common, and in building tunnels. It will have a major impact on London, but also on Birmingham. The railway has to go to the north because it will be a major economic boon for the communities that it will go to. We have to invest and have a long-term plan for such projects because they will sustain and underpin the economic prospects of our country.
I must admit that I have a few concerns about expansion of Heathrow, not least because it would require moving the M25 and the M4. The economic consequences of doing that would be very substantial indeed, so we must think very carefully about it. I have always thought, whether in relation to Stansted, Heathrow or Gatwick, that we can add value by improving the rail and public transport links to the airports. On many occasions when I have ambled through the countryside on something called the Stansted Express, I have thought that if it was just a little bit faster, we might get rather more value for the major infrastructure investment at Stansted.
We have major investments already, but we should look at pinch points and at stretching what we have already. To pick up the points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood), there are certain things we can do with signalling or dualling on the road network that will get much more value out of a network. Public investment is very important, and now that we are getting the deficit down, I am pleased that we can start to think about long-term planning to create success for our economy.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) on securing the debate. It is a very timely one for the south-west, as I shall explain in a moment.
It is no secret that I think that transport links in the south-west are underfunded, as addressing that has been one of my main priorities since entering this place last June. It comes on the back of the need for the south-west to stop accepting the poor deal for transport that we have been given for so long. My transport campaigns in the south-west are about giving us a fair deal by reopening Plymouth airport, extending the M5 from Exeter to Plymouth, and funding our train line properly so that it is faster and more resilient in bad weather. As a region, we have been given—and, importantly, we have accepted—a poor deal for far too long.
Across nearly all areas of Government spending in the south-west, the far south-west, which I represent, has received below average spend. My Labour colleagues have talked about the gap in transport funding for some time. Based on the Treasury’s “Country and Regional Analysis” publication last year, we in the far south-west receive about £277 per head. In London, the figure is £973 per head, which means that London gets three and a half times what we get in the far south-west. I do not mind London getting another tube line, HS2 being built or a new runway at Heathrow so long as the far south-west gets its fair share—not more, just our fair share—but that is not happening at the moment.
That is why tomorrow is such an important day for the Government: we will see whether they will put their money where their mouth is. On 30 January, south-west Conservative MPs threatened to rebel on a vote against HS2, and the Transport Secretary wrote them a letter to quell their concerns. In it, he said that Dawlish—the part of the train line washed away by the storms in 2014—
“remains our number one national priority”.
I simply do not believe that Dawlish is the Government’s No. 1 national priority when it comes to rail. Looking at the blank faces around the Chamber, I see that no one else does either. The DFT also promised in its letter, which was sent only to Tory MPs and therefore, sadly, not to me or to my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), that work at Dawlish would begin “quickly”. We have heard that before—jam tomorrow.
What we are looking for tomorrow is a full statement and a plan that will adopt the Peninsula Rail Task Force recommendations, and that is lucky because the letter went on to say that
“the DfT will set out our strategy, following the PRTF report, by the end of February.”
That is tomorrow, so I invite the Minister to confirm that the DFT will publish a south-west rail strategy tomorrow, that it will adopt the recommendations of the Peninsula Rail Task Force and, importantly, that it will match Labour’s pledge of funding £2.5 billion for this rail action, which covers the first 10 years of spending set out by the Peninsula Rail Task Force. Failure to publish that strategy tomorrow will show the south-west that we have been let down yet again by this Government. We need action, words and funding to follow the agreed plan. That needs to be based on what can be delivered, not promises of jam tomorrow and vague promises of upgrades.
The far south-west has had too many promises since David Cameron came to the region in 2014 saying that money was no object in restoring our train line. The orange army did a great job in restoring Dawlish, but the investment has not flowed in since then, which means that our journeys are too slow and the service is not resilient enough. In the bad weather we are having at the moment, there is a risk that CrossCountry rail services will stop at Exeter and not continue to Penzance. That is because CrossCountry services cannot cope with the salt water of the waves washing over them at Dawlish, so they have to be cancelled. No other part of the country would accept that poor deal, and I say to the Minister that the south-west will no longer accept it. I ask him please to publish that strategy tomorrow—let us get on and fix our railway.
I guess that there is at least one thing on which the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) and I would agree: the need for more investment in the south-west. There is no question about that. However, unlike him, I am absolutely convinced that we will get exactly what the Secretary of State promised. He promised—he put it in writing—that he would give us information on what he will do about Dawlish and that he would set out in full his response to the Peninsula Rail Task Force. I am confident that we will get that.
I also do not agree that Dawlish is not the No. 1 priority. If the hon. Gentleman is as keen as I am for the south-west to stay on the map, he should remember that if the rocks fall at Teignmouth, the whole of the south-west will be cut off. That is not acceptable. It is therefore—why should it not be?—the No. 1 priority for the Department. As we have to wait till tomorrow to hear about that, today I would like to concentrate on the same subject as other hon. Members: community transport.
Clearly we are at the rough end of the EU hearing and Court judgment that have required the Government to interpret sections 19 and 22 permits in a very different way. The reality is, as others have said, that community transport simply cannot sustain itself without revenue from grants, other income and local government contracts, so the flexing of the interpretation that allows committee groups to flourish and continue is crucial. Most will not or cannot afford to revise their procedure to take account of the regulatory progress and, frankly, the trustees are not prepared to take the increasing risk. Can we blame them? After all, they are volunteers. At the end of the day, who will foot the bill? It will be the taxpayer, because the county council—in my case Devon County Council—will have to foot the bill for the extra cost to fill the gap.
The Government’s consultation is under way, and that is welcome, but the process needs to involve careful consideration of how to deal with the problem. I have a letter dated 8 February from the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman), who is dealing with this, and he sets out that exemptions should of course apply to these community groups. He said that an exemption applied when there was no alternative contractor, if the alternative contractor confirmed that they did not regard the community group as a competitor, if the activity was occasional, or if the service was free. With respect to my hon. Friend the Minister, that is not really going to work for Devon, as it does not begin to take account of some of our challenges.
Although a fund of £250,000 for licensing is welcome, it does not help us, because the overall bill will be huge, and that would be a small drop in the ocean. That is aside from the risk that would have to be taken on. As for exemptions for short journeys, Devon is one of the largest and most widespread counties in the country, so there is no such thing as a short distance.
We use our community transport for school contracts and a number of social outings, so I need a better answer from the Government for Dawlish Community Transport, Newton Abbott Community Transport, and Volunteering in Health Teignmouth. At the moment, my county council is acting as if the current interpretation under the recent case law is the way we are going to make progress. That means that the risk is being held in the hands of not the county council, but the voluntary groups. These are volunteers in desperate need; there has to be another way of doing this.
I, like a number of colleagues, will focus on community transport. As a Labour and Co-operative MP, I am particularly keen to talk about the not-for-profit sector.
The Co-operative party believes that community transport and commercial bus routes should be designated community assets that are, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) said, subject to the same protections as community assets are afforded under the Localism Act 2011. Tens of thousands of people rely on these services for some of the most socially necessary journeys. The Government’s announcement that they seek to change regulations on the community transport sector was a big surprise. As a result, many such services are now under threat, and there will be a reduction in this socially necessary public transport.
Community transport is a very broad term. It includes local road passenger transport services delivered by charities and other not-for-profit organisations, typically where there is no viable commercial market. The core of community transport organisations includes door-to-door transport, informal lift-giving by volunteer car drivers, Dial-a-Ride and Dial-a-Bus, particularly for people with disabilities and mobility difficulties, and groups such as the elderly and others who struggle to get out and about. This transport is required, for example, to take them on shopping trips.
The Community Transport Association estimates that tens of thousands of people, many of whom are the most vulnerable in our communities, access this form of transport. It has outlined why these journeys are such a lifeline for many. Preston Community Transport, which is based in my constituency, is just one such community transport organisation. It claims that there are now
“significant problems as a result of the Department for Transport’s proposed changes to permits and licences. The Department has opened a consultation, but many are still very concerned about the assumptions that lie behind it, and by the fact that the Statutory Instrument to implement these changes has already been drafted. If the changes were to go ahead as proposed, the impact on Preston CT would be damaging. It would mean an almost total loss of volunteer driven transport in Preston and surrounding areas, as well as having a knock-on effect where paid drivers are used. This would damage the entire business model and we have no ability to absorb such an impact.”
Preston Community Transport represents more than 400 not-for-profit groups and organisations. On average, 38 people a day go on a trip that keeps them socially connected. It operates beyond Preston, but is part of an interconnected whole. Some areas support others, so without one piece, even services that are seemingly unconnected to the proposals, such as car schemes in Wyre, could collapse.
Ministers appear to be fixed in their belief that the changes will affect only a small number of community transport organisations and, even then, only those that “act like a bus company”. That is getting close to being disingenuous, as the evidence of likely impacts is there if we look for it. The Transport Committee’s report published in December was clear in recommending that the Government must protect the social value of community transport and that the Department
“must not use a sledgehammer to crack a nut”.
I hope the Minister will take note of community transport organisations and take the relevant action required.
Governments are usually driven by events—events that are unpredictable and therefore unpredicted. Events can sometimes seem pivotal but are often momentary, yet they have the capacity to absorb a great deal of Government resources, time and effort. It is important that Governments step back from events and think in themes. A thematic concentration that allows Governments to plan strategically is critically important in the area of transport, in particular.
This Government have a reasonable record, as did their predecessor, on trying to address some of those themes, yet there is more to do. In the longer version of my speech, which for the convenience of the House I will place in the Library, so that people can be edified and informed by it, I set out the detail of those themes. For the sake of the time that we have available, I will highlight them in this way: it seems to me that there are three.
First, what is the purpose of travel? Over recent years, the blithe assumption has been that it is desirable for people to travel more and more. My contention is that this is not necessarily so. People are obliged to travel further to work, school, leisure, shops and so on. I am not sure that that is compatible with their wellbeing, and we need to think creatively about policies across Government which create that kind of obligatory need to travel, rather than to travel by choice.
Secondly, if we are going to invest in infrastructure, of course it is about what we do in terms of plant, but it is also about people. Equipping people with the necessary skills to make infrastructural investment happen, and to make it work, is vital. The Department for Transport has a good record in this respect. Two reports have been produced—one in 2016 and a review in 2017—that chart the number of skilled people that will be necessary to deliver the ambitious plans for road and rail investment, but we need to be mindful, because the pace of change is considerable. The second of those reports states:
“Our work shows that in the coming years in the roads and rail sectors, we will require a trajectory reaching 5,000 to 8,000 apprentices per year.”
That is an enormous step change in the level of skills and we will need to monitor closely whether we can meet such ambitious targets.
Beyond people and purpose, the third theme is pace. Technological change will alter where we travel, how we travel and in what we travel. It is necessary for any strategy to be sufficiently dynamic to take account of that technological change, which will by its nature alter some of our core assumptions. Purpose, people and place: those are the themes that this debate gives us chance to consider in greater detail and at further length as we reflect on this early dialogue.
My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) spoke about the need to be ambitious in transport debates. Let me end with this point. Chesterton said:
“The centre of every man’s existence is a dream.”
Let us dare to dream about what transport can offer, and let us measure the effectiveness of all we do in respect of popular wellbeing. When each feels valued, all feel valued. If we want to build the common good and to use transport to help to do so, we must measure all we do in terms of wellbeing.
Order. I do not really want to make the time limit three minutes, but if Members could just knock a bit off their speeches to help one another, it will get us all there.
I rise to speak about railway costs, the way they have exploded in the past 25 years and what I think now needs to be done. I will speak, by way of example, about the incredible increase in the costs of rail electrification.
The Minister and his departmental officials may have seen the illuminating recent article in the Rail Professional journal by Don Heath, a brilliant railway engineer who led and masterminded the electrification from Hitchin to Edinburgh in the late 1980s and early ’90s. In his article, he describes how that was done and achieved so efficiently. It is a fascinating read. He concludes by contrasting the costs of that earlier electrification with present-day electrification costs. It is almost beyond belief that, stripping out inflation, costs are now seven times greater than when the east coast main line was electrified. They have multiplied by seven times in real terms. I urge the Minister and his officials to read Don Heath’s piece. The modern, bloated costs of electrification have led directly to the abandonment of the Great Western scheme to south Wales, Bristol and Oxford, the Kettering to Sheffield electrification, as well as electrification from Manchester to Leeds.
The ballooning cost of railway track work in general is not new. It happened very soon after privatisation and has continued. In my early days in the House, I raised these costs several times with Transport Ministers. I had been informed by sources inside the industry that track maintenance costs had risen fourfold and track renewals fivefold since privatisation. At no time did Ministers say that my figures were wrong, and the Secretary of State once said that costs should be reduced by 80%. It was astonishing. A little later, however, Network Rail agreed that track maintenance should be brought in-house. Sadly, the inefficiencies that had developed in the private contracting sector were brought in-house, too, the same methods having been brought in-house together with the same people to manage them. I also pointed out to the then chair of Network Rail that the thick end of track maintenance and thin end of track renewals overlapped and that leaving track renewals outsourced while insourcing track maintenance was illogical. He grimaced but did not challenge my view.
There is now a dwindling resource of expertise in the industry, with a handful of older British Rail-trained engineers often trying to pick up the pieces of mistaken work on the tracks. The loss of skills is a major problem that can be addressed only by rebuilding a dedicated, comprehensive, in-house, permanently employed cadre of skilled railway engineers and operatives. British Rail had that, and it worked. British Rail has been wrongly maligned, when it actually worked “miracles on a pittance”—not my words but those of the rail regulator some 15 years ago. It had the lowest railway costs in Europe, except for Sweden; now our railways are the most expensive in Europe. The answer to the problem is obvious, and I urge Ministers to think on it.
I want to focus on the south-west and, of course, North Devon. I say to the Government that we have made good progress on infrastructure investment in that region’s transport network, but there is more to do, and I want to focus on a couple of areas where I believe that to be the case. The first—Members will be relieved to hear me mention these four words—is the North Devon link road. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] Absolutely. I could not get 30 seconds into my speech without explaining the vital importance of this link between the motorway and North Devon. Just before Christmas, we handed a bid for £80 million of funding from the local majors fund to the Transport Secretary. I am sure he is thinking of nothing else and will soon give us extremely good news.
We have already had good news. The Minister came to my constituency in the summer and announced a £5 million funding package for improvements between the motorway and Tiverton, but there is much more to do. I very much welcome the announcement of the major road network process, which ring-fences vehicle excise duty for roads that are under local authority funding control but which, in my view, should never have been de-trunked—it happened under a previous Government. The A361 is a case in point. I hope, then, that the major road network fund will benefit the North Devon link road. We look forward to that announcement. The welcome investment in other roads in the south-west—the A30, the A358, which provides a vital link, and the A303 in two places—will provide better transport links to the south-west, which are vital to unlocking the economic potential there.
I move on to the railways. We have a railway line in North Devon linking Exeter with Barnstaple. I welcome the fact that GWR, the train operating company, is undertaking a consultation and is working closely with the Tarka Rail Association, which I commend for all its work. There is a need to improve journey times for commuters between Exeter and Barnstaple and, in particular, to increase the capacity and quality of some of the carriages on that line. I note that the deadline for the consultation is 4 April. I hope that the Minister will be watching carefully, with a nose for the need for further investment in that line. It really could unlock greater economic potential.
On the greater south-west, reference has already been made to the excellent report by the Peninsula Rail Task Force, which suggested a fairly ambitious scheme of investment in the rail line down to the south-west. I note, as did the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard), that we were promised an answer before the end of February. We have 36 hours to wait. I feel sure that the Transport Secretary will give us the good news that we want on the Peninsula Rail Task Force before long.
Let me briefly—in the 36 seconds that I have left—echo what has been said about community transport. I have received representations, and have visited Go North Devon in my constituency. I say gently to the Minister that we need to look at the issue again, because it is of concern to that community transport group.
We speak about the northern powerhouse and the midlands engine. We have not yet got a snappy name in the south-west, but we are like a coiled spring. We are like Zebedee on steroids. We just need to be unlocked with better investment in our transport. I welcome what we have already had, and look forward to more to come.
Order. I was hoping that the hon. Member for North Devon (Peter Heaton-Jones) might shave a little off. If others do not follow his example, I shall be very grateful.
I shall raise two points that are close to my heart. I raise the first in my role as co-chair of the all-party parliamentary cycling group. Additional investment in cycling and walking can bring about a win-win: improved health, improved productivity and learning for people who take exercise at the beginning of the day, reduced congestion, reduced travel costs and better air quality. Segregated cycle paths will prevent cyclists from being “doored and floored” by inconsiderate car occupants who do not look before they open their doors. I urge the Department for Transport to encourage and incentivise investment in cycling, whether it is delivered by Highways England, by local authorities or by developers. There is a good opportunity to include cycling infrastructure in major projects. For instance, a cycle route could be constructed along the route of HS2, and making it part of the design stage would avoid much higher retrofitting costs down the line. Government figures show that investment in cycling infrastructure pays back £5.50 for every pound. I am sure Members will agree that that is money well spent.
Let me now move on to my other favourite subject, Heathrow airport and runway 3. I also co-chair the all-party parliamentary group on Heathrow expansion, to which we are generally opposed. I am grateful to my friends who represent northern constituencies, because they have made some powerful points with which I absolutely agree. They are severely disadvantaged by the regional disparity in respect of transport infrastructure, and they are right to ask for borrowing powers and increased investment and support from the Department.
Halting any further investment in runway 3 would be part of the solution. The Department itself estimates the likely net economic benefit to the UK to be almost nothing: £0.2 billion to £6.1 billion, over 60 years. That is less net benefit than would be produced by the expansion of Gatwick. There are no proposals to fund the essential road and rail infrastructure that is necessary. Heathrow airport will provide only just over £1 billion, but the Airports Commission says that between £5 billion and £6 billion is needed, and Transport for London has specified £15 billion to £18 billion. There would not be adequate world-class noise insulation for our residents, and there are no funds for the replacement of the fairly recently built waste transfer station. Airlines are unwilling to fund the runway because they are already paying the highest slot costs, I believe, in the world; they are certainly paying, by a long way, the highest airport charges in Britain. Without extensive subsidy, the number of domestic routes served by Heathrow will fall from seven to four. The project cannot be completed and also remain within air quality limits. There is unused capacity at several other London and regional airports. Those are many good reasons why the project should be halted now.
Notwithstanding the weather, the House should be basking in the warm glow of success, at least as regards productivity. I am delighted to say that, just at the point when the Office for Budget Responsibility threw in the towel and gave up, we embarked on the first period of sustained improvement in productivity for seven years. Maintaining that is critical, and, as has been agreed on both sides of the House, part of the answer is improvement in our infrastructure.
I am delighted that we have more than £460 billion in the pipeline for infrastructure investments, and over half of that will be coming from the private sector. I sincerely hope that part of it—I beg to differ from the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) here—will be the expansion of Heathrow; we have talked about that enough and we need to get on with it, but I will not go further into the debate on that with the hon. Lady, given the time limit today. I am pleased that since the financial crisis we have, notwithstanding the other pressures, maintained the investment in our infrastructure, which has exceeded in terms of GDP percentage that of France and Germany over the period.
I listened carefully to the proposer of the motion, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), and I agree that this is a national challenge. I went through the details of this, and I warmly welcome the TransPennine route upgrade, think it is a smart move to make smart motorways of the M60, M62 and M6, and, burrowing into the detail, support the £100 million being spent on the Tees Valley A19. What will please the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth is the £14 million being spent on cycle lanes in Gateshead and Newcastle. Those are all examples, both very small and very large, of the Government acting to ensure we boost our productivity and make this a better place to live across the country.
Above all, the establishment by this Government, with £260 million of funding, of Transport for the North is a good move; it will create proper and good national advocacy through that body. One might wonder why I am saying that as a Member for a Sussex constituency; I do so because it serves the interests of Horsham and the whole of the country if our economy and our growth are broadly based.
I am pleased to represent a constituency in one of the most productive parts of the country, however, and, while we recognise the need to have growth across the country, we must also recognise the need for that most productive part of the economy, London and the south-east, to continue to succeed, and for that engine to keep humming. That, too, is in the national interest.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry) said, when she was rail Minister, that the best way to get the country’s productivity going was to make certain that Southern rail worked. She was right then, and it is still true now. We have for too long neglected infrastructure expenditure on our commuter lines in the south-east.
I had two key points to make. One was about digital railways, which has been amply and brilliantly made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood), so I do not need to wax lyrical on that in the minute remaining to me. But I must refer again to Southern rail. I welcome the investment going into London Bridge and the Balcombe tunnel, which has been there since 1840 and is used daily by Thameslink. I would welcome that as part of an ongoing programme proposed by the Brighton Mainline Alliance, which I sincerely hope it will force through. We must upgrade Windmill Bridge junction and develop East Croydon station. That alone would lead to £6 billion of improvement to the national economy, if we can get our lines working correctly through the Southern region. I say to the Minister that as part of this we need extra station capacity between Horsham and Crawley; I look forward to renewing my conversations with him in the future. Being able to help other Members is always an aspiration of mine. With that, I conclude my remarks.
Order. The time limit will have to come down to three minutes. I was hoping every speaker could have given 20 or 30 seconds, but unfortunately that did not happen.
As many Members have already suggested, our transport infrastructure plays a critical role in the functioning of our modern society, connecting our communities. I am particularly pleased to speak in this debate having recently taken on the role of chair of the Conservative Back-Bench transport group. We are planning to cover a number of wide-ranging transport topics from future rail connectivity following HS2 to the future of our shipping and ports following Brexit. Of course it would be remiss of me not to use this opportunity to invite the Minister to one of our future meetings.
Data from the House of Commons Library clearly indicates a continuing increase in spending across all regions in England. Interestingly, my own region of the west midlands has seen transport spending rise from just over £1.2 billion to nearly £2 billion between 2011-12 and 2015-16. Upgrading our rail network so that it is HS2-ready, and ensuring the continuation of the roll-out of the national network of smart motorways, is at the heart of the midlands connect strategy. It is vital that HS2 is fully integrated into our existing conventional rail network, ensuring that the benefits of HS2 are maximised throughout our communities. More needs to be done to ensure that the opportunities of HS2 connectivity are not missed but are fully realised, so that places like Stoke-on-Trent are fully connected through direct classic compatible services on the HS2 network. Stoke-on-Trent must be connected as an HS2 city that succeeds in fully exposing the potential for innovation, creativity and development. The construction of phase 2a is likely to have a significant impact on the existing highway and rail network. Specifically, there is likely to be significant congestion at junction 15 of the M6. I encourage Ministers to look into this further.
As regards the work that is being done to improve our east-west connectivity, which a number of right hon. and hon. Members have mentioned, North Staffordshire’s Crewe-Derby line is essential if we are to see the upgrades to rail services in my constituency to Longton and through the city. There has been a 60% increase in footfall at those stations since privatisation, and that will increase as we move towards the economic potential that needs to be unlocked in Stoke-on-Trent.
I am very pleased that the Government are focusing on this reinvestment in our national transport infrastructure and creating the networks that will serve and champion economic growth. However, we need to continue to focus on how we can make the most of these opportunities for major investment so that that investment generates the greatest potential to deliver on housing and jobs growth in our constituencies.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate on transport. I am a member of the Transport Committee and I have a great passion for the subject. It took me over four hours to battle through the snow in East Sussex to be able to speak for three minutes in this place. Who says that this place is not maddening?
Transport is hugely important for my region. It has the ability to be an absolute game changer. Of course, any hon. Member can say the same thing about their constituency. We have heard lots of talk about the lack of subsidy in the north, for example. It is incredibly interesting that the average amount of subsidy spent per passenger kilometre in Great Britain is 5.1p, whereas in northern areas it is almost 25p. In the area I represent, where we have Southern railways, the worst performing rail operator in the country, the figure is only 1.1p. I dare say that there is a correlation between those two things. Hon. Members in the north who talk about their lack of investment may wish to look at the service that we suffer in my constituency. It clearly does not work, and I would like a lot more to be done. We should bear in mind the fact that the nearest town to my constituency border is Hastings—the most deprived town in the south-east. We need a better, high-speed rail link to Ashford and St Pancras that will open up huge opportunities.
I also want to talk about roads in my constituency. I happen to have the embarrassment of a road on which people are more likely to suffer a fatality than any other road in the UK. I also have two roads that are in the top 10 of the most dangerous roads. And those roads remain dangerous. Highways England modelled the A21 on a road in Scotland where 80% safety improvements had been made by using average speed cameras, but then decided not to proceed with that on the basis that it had a better alternative. Eighteen months later, we are still waiting for that alternative. This is clearly not good enough.
Another instance is the A259—again, one of the most dangerous roads in the country, where residents face a maddening situation: they are seeing more planning applications in their locality, and despite their paying the council tax to help build a road that thousands of houses should go alongside, the developer is not building out those homes. That developer should be charged full council tax after 12 months of sitting tight, because those residents will get even more air pollution from the traffic on their roads and then watch an empty site not being built out where the housing should be put. For me, it is all about joining things together.
I advise everybody in this place to read the Transport Committee’s report on community transport, with reference to the 9 November clarification. The regulations that were talked about in this House have now been clarified and will not take place following the concerns expressed. I know that there has been a good lobbying effort. People need to read that report.
In the three minutes available to me, I would like to make three brief points.
The first point is about community transport. I emphasise what other hon. Members have said about this already. I have two shining examples in my constituency: West Oxfordshire Community Transport and Our Bus Bartons, which do a wonderful job in connecting our rural constituencies, enabling people to get to work and ensuring that elderly people are not isolated but can get to doctors’ surgeries, for example. The Community Transport Association and others have made me very aware of the potential ramifications of sections 19 and 22 of the Transport Act 1985 if there were changes. At present, there seems to be no safety ramification requiring those drivers to have public service vehicle licences. I simply ask that the Minister and the Department do everything possible to ensure that community transport is able to function in exactly the same way as it does now and continues to provide that vital link, particularly in rural constituencies such as mine.
My second point is about the A40. Other hon. Members pass through it, and I am grateful for the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk), whose constituency is affected just as much as mine. There are no two ways about it: my constituents spend hours a week stuck in congestion on the A40, which has untold economic consequences. West Oxfordshire and other areas affected by the A40—the Members for many of those areas are here for this debate—will never reach their full economic potential until that road is addressed.
The A40 could be addressed in a number of ways, but one thing is certain: a final fix must be found, not just for economic reasons but for the quality of life of my constituents and others who spend hours stuck in maddening congestion along that road. Part of the solution is, of course, rail transport. There are two important stations in my constituency, Hanborough and Charlbury, and many small ones—Kingham, Finstock and Ascott-under-Wychwood to name a few. Those stations are all terribly important to the rural areas they serve, and making the most of them is critical to taking some of the traffic off the A40 by ensuring that people can get where they need to be for work or for personal reasons.
Finally, there are a number of solutions. We need to look at the signalling aspects so we can have fast trains—bimodal transport has been looked at, too. We also need to consider how we can make the most of what we already have, such as by tying in public transport to Hanborough station. Perhaps the Cowley branch line could be reopened to passenger services—a shuttle from Hanborough to Oxford would do a great deal to take traffic off the roads.
That was a quick canter, and I am grateful for those three minutes. The Government must take action in all these budgets.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening) for having the foresight to set up the new stations fund when she was Secretary of State for Transport. Some £6.6 million from that fund has contributed to the £9.9 million new station in Ilkeston, which opened just 11 months ago this coming weekend. The station has exceeded all expectations. Some 30,000 passengers used the station in its first three months, twice the number expected, and it has improved connectivity, attracted more businesses into Ilkeston and provided opportunities for my constituents to go to Nottingham, Chesterfield and Sheffield for jobs.
The station has also brought the community together, with the local school taking on and looking after the planting and gardening at the station. Two Santa steam train specials visited the station, which brought out all the people to welcome them to the station. Public money has a huge impact on our local communities when it is spent right.
My Long Eaton residents are going through the pain of having a smart motorway installed between junctions 23 and 25 of the M1 as part of the 30 new smart motorway schemes under the £15 billion investment plan. I have been reassured by Highways England that the scheme will help to relieve the pressure on junction 25, which is hopefully why my Long Eaton residents are putting up with it.
East Midlands Council and D2N2 feel that tinkering around the edges on the A52 will solve the pressure at junction 25, but we need to be bolder. That is why I once again ask the Secretary of State to be bold and brave and get a new junction between junctions 25 and 26, which would help to alleviate the problems of extra traffic caused by HS2 and the 2,000-plus houses we want to develop on the largest brownfield site in the UK.
While we are on the subject of HS2, it would be remiss of me not to mention and make a huge plea, yet again, for more appropriate and timely compensation for my residents who are grossly affected by phase 2b.
In my last few seconds, I give a plug to Erewash community transport. Only yesterday I witnessed how useful it was in helping to get disabled people and their volunteers from Leonard Cheshire Disability to the Ilkeston bowling alley, making sure those disabled people are fully integrated with the community. The social impact of community transport is so important. I am sure the Minister has heard that message loud and clear, and I am sure we will get an answer.
I want to say a few words about the urgent need to support community transport providers. Those fantastic organisations do vital work to reduce loneliness and isolation, yet through no fault of their own they are fearful for the future. Community Connexions in my constituency is a charity with more than 30 years’ experience, and it provides a community transport service throughout Gloucestershire and beyond. It does so with the help of more than 50 local volunteers using accessible minibuses and their own vehicles. These are public-spirited individuals motivated by nothing more than a desire to give back to society. The impact the organisation is making is remarkable. For example, in 2016, more than 5,000 passengers were taken to health appointments and more than 13,000 passenger trips were taken to day centres. That was all done with care and compassion, with volunteers in some cases going literally the extra mile. By operating a number of community routes, it is doing work that the private sector is not interested in running. To give one example, it plugs a gap left by the market in the route from Cheltenham to the butterfly garden, a project providing education, therapy and recreation for people with disabilities.
I am of course aware that the Department for Transport is facing a legal challenge arising from the direct effect of EU regulations; it seems that the Bus and Coach Association is hell-bent on taking the maximum advantage through legal pressure and insists that there should be a level playing field, and what is not to like about a level playing field? But there is an important distinction here: community providers are not-for-profit, so any surplus they manage to gain through a contract is used to extend the reach of charitable community transport and therefore the scope for doing more good. So it is of course right that the Government respond to this legal challenge, but I hope they will do so in a way that is proportionate and does not fatally undermine the ability of community transport providers to continue as a going concern. I invite the Government to scrutinise with some care the suggestion that somehow community providers operate to a lower safety standard. I respectfully suggest that the evidence is not made out on that.
In short, I urge the Government: first, to move promptly to end the paralysis and uncertainty that is afflicting the community transport sector; secondly, to act generously on funding to assist community transport providers in obtaining further permits for licences or additional training, as required; and, thirdly, to keep firmly in mind when addressing this the enormous social dividend and return to society that results from the work these organisations do. The Government must recognise that losing community transport providers would be a tragedy for some of the most deprived in our society.
Until a few months ago, I was a London Assembly member and I was always pleased to see the incredible amount of investment being committed by the Government to London. Anyone living in or visiting the city over the past eight years cannot help but have noticed the significant continuous improvement in transport infrastructure. However, I have been an Essex MP for eight months and I am somewhat less pleased when I compare the London numbers with those for my eastern region. Last year, in the east of England, just £74 million was spent on local public transport; my region received just 3.8% of the UK’s budget for such services over a five-year period.
I do think the Government have the correct approach to fiscal management, but I do not wish to see the community services adversely affected, especially those that make no demands on the Exchequer. It may therefore not surprise Members to know that I am one of the MPs who is speaking today on community transport. Uttlesford Community Travel currently runs under the section 19 and 22 permits set out within the Transport Act 1985. However, it is at risk of being priced out of the wonderful work it does in the area because of the high cost of training qualifications being mandated, so I am asking the Department to protect community travel services and their volunteers. Other Members of this House, including the hon. Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) and my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), have spoken about the great work these groups do in our constituencies, and not least among them is Uttlesford Community Travel, in my constituency, which is run by Ian Shaw and Malcolm Barrell. I am here representing them.
Some time ago, I raised this matter in person with the Secretary of State, who was sympathetic. My hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) referred earlier to a Government letter of clarification, which hopefully will address the issue. I remain optimistic and hope that an exemption will be found for Uttlesford Community Travel and so many other charity transport providers throughout the country, so that they can continue to help to improve so many people’s quality of life.
It is a pleasure to speak in this new world of estimates debates, which means that instead of debating obscure reports we can talk about numbers and principles. The reality is, though, that many estimates are still going to be rolled up and voted on without debate. We are a long way from full transparency.
There are some increases in the supplementary estimates, and they are all reactive increases. There is £265 million to cover the HS2 VAT risk—just like that—yet the £35 million to scrap VAT for Scottish police and fire services was supposedly a Budget set-piece announcement for Scotland. Only last week, the UK Government voted down a review of the £140 million of backdated VAT that we want to be refunded to emergency services in Scotland. Will the Minister explain how that £265 million of VAT can be found so easily for HS2?
Some £5.6 million is allocated in the supplementary estimates for Brexit costs. That is going to a be a drop in the ocean of what will be required. There need to be clear funding allocations as part of the Brexit preparations and there should be transparency about what that funding is for, especially if it is used in preparation for a no deal.
In my time in this House, the focus of much of the general transport debates has been on the whole north-south divide and whether London has much greater access to funding than other regions and nations in the UK. The bare figures back up the latter assertion: London and the south-east have between them shared more than 38% of the total spend over a five-year period. Such continual disproportionate spending creates either a vicious circle or a circle of prosperity, depending on how it is considered. Many of London’s transport projects have been used to drive the regeneration of areas, which brings further investment and jobs and thereby effectively sucks in more investment that could have been targeted elsewhere.
Even HS2 confirms the London-centric approach of successive Governments. There was no way that the UK Government was going to countenance starting in the north first or even, at the very least, undertaking north and south linkages at the same time. I certainly sympathise in particular with the north-east of England, which seems to suffer disproportionately. It also means that there will be some form of detriment to cross-border journeys.
Let us consider the Scottish total spend on transport over the past five years. At 13% of total UK spend, we are spending a higher amount per capita than the rest of the UK. On national road spending, Scotland is punching well above its weight. However, that is not because of the benevolence of the UK Government; it is despite the UK Government and thanks to the will of the Scottish Government.
Devolution has made a huge difference to the amount that can be spent on trying to alleviate the north-south divide. We need only consider the work that has happened since the Scottish Parliament came into being. Before that, we were completely at the mercy of the UK Government and suffered as a consequence. That alone is confirmation that power needs to be moved further from London.
In 2009, the Scottish Government completed the upgrade of what was the last remaining single-track trunk road in the UK: the road to the isles from Fort William to Mallaig. It is truly astonishing that that was overlooked for so long. Things are the same on many of the Scottish islands, where there are single-track roads with passing places, interspersed with upgraded stretches that have been partly funded by the EU. That brings us back to the question of what the UK Government are going to do to plug the EU funding stream. What are they going to do when access to European Investment Bank loans dries up?
It took until 2017 for there to be a continuous motorway between Glasgow and Edinburgh. The Scottish National party Government have funded and completed the M74 and M80 upgrades, and we are progressing with the A9 and A96 dualling programmes. The fact that so much work has been done illustrates the historical shortfall. Some Opposition parties in the Scottish Parliament are crying out for more work to be done, but it is really difficult, especially as the estimates process is year on year. Barnett consequentials might or might not arise out of a given Budget—conversely, a cut could be imposed on the Scottish budget—so it is clear that the estimates process is still not fit for purpose. It is certainly not conducive to long-term strategic planning.
At no point in the budgetary process are the Scottish Government asked what their needs are so that decisions can be made on that basis. Yet we all know that the extra money secured by the Democratic Unionist party was apparently not a sop to the DUP; it was just that the UK Government were doing a needs-based analysis for Northern Ireland and suddenly discovered that it needed another £1 billion. Hopefully the other nations and regions of the UK will now be given the same forethought in the estimates process.
When it comes to rail funding, there is a process that should allow longer term planning and investment: the control period cycles. Previously, Scotland was allowed to access up to 11.2% of Network Rail’s borrowing capacity, based on the relative size of Scotland’s network within the UK network. Since then Scotland has actually built more railway lines, thanks to the SNP Government, but our allocation of funding has been proportionately cut. That does not make sense. Even worse, the UK regulator, the Office of Rail Regulation, has stated that Scotland needs £4.2 billion for essential repairs in order to meet future demand. However, without any warning the UK Government have allocated only £3.6 billion, leaving a £600 million shortfall. What is the point of involving the ORR in a proper, scientific estimates process if it is just ignored by the UK Treasury? I am yet to hear any Transport Minister stand up to defend the ORR and demand that extra money for Scotland.
It is impossible not to mention the rail franchising debacle. I have stated that the estimates process is not fit for purpose, and the same certainly goes for rail franchising. We had the west coast main line tender debacle, which led to the direct award to Virgin. We had the Southern rail shambles and too many direct awards in general. The Transport Secretary’s failure to get a grip of the Southern rail situation has cost the taxpayer £240 million in lost revenue, and that is a small drop in the ocean compared with the situation with Virgin Trains East Coast. The Secretary of State needs to get a grip of the east coast main line and return it to public ownership.
In conclusion, this is supposed to be a more transparent system that allows greater debate, but it seems to me that there is a long way to go. There is a long way to go before we have proper long-term planning; a long way to go before there is equitable spending, and not a bias in favour of London and the south-east; a long way to go before we have a Secretary of State who understands that private franchises do not generate magic money that the Government could not otherwise access; and a long way to go before we know the implications of Brexit. With the UK Government determined to hide the Brexit sectoral impact analyses, I am also concerned that the estimates process will continue to be a guesstimates process and that there will be a complete lack of transparency.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) for opening the debate. She made an excellent point about how central transport spending is to productivity and the wider economy—purpose, people and place, as we heard from the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes).
It is right to say that 2017-18 has raised many questions about the governance of public resources. Questions asked in numerous National Audit Office and Public Accounts Committee reports have highlighted the Government’s failed stewardship of our transport system, as has also been highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins). While passengers have paid and paid again into the leaky finance pot, the failed leadership has ricocheted across industry, which has had to respond to frequent announcement of U-turns by turning on and off skills, on and off orders, changes to specs, cancellations and delays.
The Government have made a complete mockery of control periods on the railways and road investment strategies on the roads—processes that were designed to bring certainty have, in the hands of this Government, turned into chaos, and at a price. Only last week the Public Accounts Committee highlighted the numerous mistakes by the Department for Transport in its management of the Thameslink renewal programme. The Committee’s report was littered with examples of “careless mistakes”. Poor planning is systemic, and that is something I will return to.
Paragraph 2.12 of the “Memorandum on the Supplementary Estimate 2017-18” states that there was an increase of £65.7 million in the cost of the intercity express programme, attributed to “depot costs and contract variations.” That is bound to happen when the Government cannot decide what trains they want to run and keep cancelling rail infrastructure upgrades. Can the Minister tell us what impact these contract variations on the intercity express programme had on the east coast rail franchise? When were they due to come on line? What were the obligations promised under the franchise to the train operator? How were they communicated to Network Rail? We need answers. A parliamentary question on 20 February revealed that two variations in the IEP contract have taken place since 2012, with the last in June 2015. Why has it taken nearly three years for the costs of the variation to be included in the departmental budget?
This Government never fail to tell us how well the rail franchising system is working, but point 2.27 on page 15 of the memorandum states that the passenger rail income for this year is £248.6 million less than expected due to a decline in revenues received from train franchises including Thameslink, Southern and Greater Anglia. What is more, Her Majesty’s Treasury will pay an additional £60 million to cover the shortfall. It is yet another magic money tree—just wait until those leaves fall on the line, or should I say in the pockets of shareholders?
The Government caused the problems on Southern rail by refusing to take responsibility for the specifications included in its contract, leaving the hapless Govia Thameslink Railway to do the dirty work. Its approach to industrial relations has caused misery to millions of passengers and staff—staff rightly making the case for the safety of passengers. I say “rightly” because the number of assaults on our trains is rising. This fall in revenues follows the Government’s multi-billion pound bail-out of Virgin-Stagecoach on the east coast and a sweetheart deal for the same companies on the west coast. We want the Government to come clean as to how much this will show up on the balance sheet. The public have a right to know.
Since 2012, the Department has granted 13 direct awards because it does not have the resources to refranchise or the courage to take the contracts into public ownership. Why should the public continue to bail out a broken franchising system? Again, the public deserve to know.
Page 20 of the memorandum tells us that Network Rail paid train companies compensation to the tune of £339.4 million in control period 4. This is a disgraceful leakage of money from the rail system that could be used to fund infrastructure upgrades. This leakage is seen in the cuts to the electrification programme and rail upgrades announced by the Department last summer. My hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) has highlighted that the Department has wasted £50 million on the midland main line planning. People, including my constituents in York Central, want answers as to where the money is going.
We have heard from Members right across the House, including my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins), about the inequality of spending. My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) called for investment in railways across the country. I look forward to the Minister’s statement tomorrow as the strategy on the peninsula rail taskforce is published.
This completely broken franchising system is managed by Whitehall’s third highest paid civil servant. However, since his appointment we have seen direct awards, franchise failures and a system in disarray. I note the £308 million of supplementary expenditure outlined in the memorandum, with no loci or accompanying strategy.
Turning to roads, we have also had the debacle of the untaxed road vehicles. The new system was promised to bring in £10 million a year. In fact, £107 million a year is being lost. It is a complete scandal, and incompetent stewardship has brought us to this point. I should mention road investment strategy 1. We have seen projects cancelled, 22 projects delayed and 19 enhancements pushed into the next control period—road investment strategy 2. We want to know what the Government are doing. Are they re-profiling RIS 2? Are they providing wider support for some of those Carillion contracts? As we have heard from the Treasury, £150 million has been put aside. Will the DfT be liable to pay out some of that? Time and again, the public are bailing out private failure.
I also want to mention the cancellation of the £250 million lorry park near Folkestone to ease Operation Stack congestion on the M20. It was cancelled because an environmental impact assessment was not done. That is more than just a careless mistake: it is a costly one, as the Government drive us off the white cliffs with their Brexit strategy.
Bus journeys have decreased by 1.7% and funding has been cut by 33% since 2010, and by nearly £30 million in just the last year. Meanwhile, fares have risen 13% above inflation since the Conservatives came to office. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) highlighted the impact of that and I thank her for her work on the Transport Committee.
Then there is community transport. Most Members, including my hon. Friends the Members for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) and for Preston (Sir Mark Hendrick), mentioned the licensing consultation, and I trust that the Government will take heed. My hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) talked about the need for a modal shift on to active travel.
Finally, I must mention the millennial railcard: kept a secret from those who had to pay for it, and now the train operating companies are on strike. How much will the Department have to fork out to honour this announcement? Such poor stewardship of our constituents’ money—money just pouring into private profit at the expense of taxpayers! That is why the public support Labour’s plans for a publicly owned railway, buses under councils’ control and a plan to serve them, their communities and our country.
This wide-ranging debate has covered everything from digital signalling to road maintenance, and from HS2 and Crossrail, all the way to community transport. I shall try to cover as many points and answer as many questions that have been put to the Government as I can. I shall write to hon. Members if I am unable to deal with their points.
We have heard today about why transport matters, how it binds our economy together, and the jobs and opportunity that it brings to every part of the country. That is why it has been such a priority for the Government over the past eight years. The challenge that we face as a country is considerable. We need to build capacity to meet ever-rising demand for mobility; to tackle congestion on our roads and overcrowding on our railways; to clean up transport and reduce harmful emissions; and to devolve power away from Westminster so that cities and regions play a greater role in managing their own transport services.
In opening the debate, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) spoke to the importance of public transport for the sustainability and independence of communities. She specifically mentioned our bus system, which is obviously a concern to Members on both sides of the House. Public-spirited, caring and compassionate community transport operators, which were hailed by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk), are crucial in this respect, as they providing a vital service. The point had cross-party recognition—from the hon. Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas), my right hon. Friends the Members for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight) and for Chesham and Amersham (Dame Cheryl Gillan), and my hon. Friends the Members for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) for Witney (Robert Courts) and for Erewash (Maggie Throup).
We do recognise concerns that some community transport operators that use permits are competing with commercial operators. We need to make changes to the permit guidance system to ensure that we comply with EU regulation and, where appropriate, that there is a level playing field between small commercial bus companies and permit holders. The Government have no plans to end the current permit system but, as hon. Members know, we are consulting to clarify which operators will require professional licences. We recognise that community transport provides a vital service in all areas of the country, particularly remote ones, which is why the Government have just announced £250,000 to assist drivers with public service vehicle licensing costs.
When we formed the coalition in 2010, the UK was one of the lowest spenders on infrastructure in the OECD. We had decades of under-investment in transport. We were making do with ageing assets, and we had a history as a country of cancelling important transport projects because of legal or planning objections.
One of the first decisions we faced as a Government was whether or not to cancel Crossrail, which we were being recommended to do by officials in the Department for Transport. That was because the economy then was in crisis and the new line would have required significant investment, but we saw it differently as a Government. We recognised that the Department for Transport has a fundamental role to play in the UK’s economic recovery, not just by channelling record investment into the network and improving public transport, but by building for the longer term, with the can-do approach recommended by my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart).
We have embarked on the biggest rail programme since the Victorian era and the biggest road investment strategy for a generation. We have rebuilt Manchester Piccadilly, King’s Cross, Birmingham New Street and Reading stations. We are in the process of building HS2. We are supporting a new runway at Heathrow, and we are about to open the Elizabeth line.
Those are just the headline schemes. Crucial work is going on all over the country. The hon. Members for Kingston upon Hull North and for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) highlighted the need to correct, not reinforce, regional disparities in funding. This important debate needs to be informed by accurate figures, which is why I want to correct some of the misapprehensions about spending in the north and in the south.
Our analysis as a Government shows that over the four years to 2020-21, central Government’s transport infrastructure spending per head will be almost equal between the north and the south of the country, with the north in fact about £10 per head above the south. To get an idea of the scale of our investment in the north, we are investing more than £13 billion over this Parliament to improve northern transport. Up to 2020, every single train in the north of England is being replaced or refurbished.
Every part of the country will benefit from our investment programme, and I wish that I had time to dwell on other areas that are going to see benefits. My right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel) spoke powerfully about the need for further investment in infrastructure in Essex. She is doing great work with her Anglian taskforce, and we are considering her proposals very carefully.
I want to pay particular attention to the far south-west, which had powerful advocates in the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) and my hon. Friend the Member for Newton Abbot (Anne Marie Morris). The Secretary of State will not disappoint them tomorrow when he fulfils his commitment to respond to the Peninsula Rail Task Force with further details of the Government’s plans for Dawlish. I also want to tell my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Peter Heaton-Jones) that we have received his bid for work on the north Devon link road and are giving it all the attention it deserves.
We are investing across the country. We are creating a major road network, funded by vehicle excise duty. We are allowing local authorities to improve or replace the most important A roads in their areas, and to tackle bottlenecks, reduce congestion and connect new housing right around the country. This Government are committed to transport infrastructure as no Government have ever been, and I commend the estimates to the House.
May I first thank everybody who has contributed to this very good debate? I would particularly like to thank the Front Benchers. I hope that we will see action on regional inequalities, because I dispute the figures that the Minister cited. It is absolutely right that we see action on community transport. Given the inclement weather, I hope we will all tonight thank the people who work in our transport services to get us home safely.
On account of the fact that we do not take this Question immediately, and by virtue of the commendable succinctness of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), the House will recognise that we cannot immediately—that is to say now; to wit, at once—proceed to the next business. In fact, if I am candid about it, it is a consequence both of the succinctness of the hon. Lady and, as the hon. Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani) helpfully reminds me through her gesticulation from a sedentary position, by virtue of the succinctness also of the Minister of State that we are in the position in which we find ourselves. I thought it might be helpful to the House to explain that matter.
Question deferred (Standing Order No. 54).
The Speaker put the deferred Questions (Standing Order No. 54).
Supplementary Estimates 2017-18
Ministry of Defence
That, for the year ending with 31 March 2018, for expenditure by the Ministry of Defence:
(1) further resources, not exceeding £8,852,638,000, be authorised for use for current purposes as set out in HC 808,
(2) further resources, not exceeding £1,363,500,000, be authorised for use for capital purposes as so set out, and
(3) a further sum, not exceeding £1,703,385,000, be granted to Her Majesty to be issued by the Treasury out of the Consolidated Fund and applied for expenditure on the use of resources authorised by Parliament.
Department for Exiting the European Union
That, for the year ending with 31 March 2018, for expenditure by the Department for Exiting the European Union:
(1) the resources authorised for use for current purposes be reduced by £22,093,000 as set out in HC 808,
(2) further resources, not exceeding £650,000, be authorised for use for capital purposes as so set out, and
(3) the sum authorised for issue out of the Consolidated Fund be reduced by £24,303,000.
Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
That, for the year ending with 31 March 2018, for expenditure by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government:
(1) further resources, not exceeding £296,942,000, be authorised for use for current purposes as set out in HC 808,
(2) further resources, not exceeding £484,352,000, be authorised for use for capital purposes as so set out, and
(3) a further sum, not exceeding £1,618,448,000, be granted to Her Majesty to be issued by the Treasury out of the Consolidated Fund and applied for expenditure on the use of resources authorised by Parliament.
Department for Transport
That, for the year ending with 31 March 2018, for expenditure by the Department for Transport:
(1) further resources, not exceeding £268,829,000, be authorised for use for current purposes as set out in HC 808,
(2) further resources, not exceeding £753,858,000, be authorised for use for capital purposes as so set out, and
(3) the sum authorised for issue out of the Consolidated Fund be reduced by £551,337,000.
The Speaker then put the Questions on the outstanding Estimates (Standing Order No. 55).
Estimates 2018-19 (Navy) Vote A
That, during the year ending with 31 March 2019, a number not exceeding 35,470 all ranks be maintained for Naval and Marine Service and that numbers in the Reserve Naval and Marines Forces be authorised for the purposes of Parts 1, 3, 4, and 5 of the Reserve Forces Act 1996 up to the maximum numbers set out in Votes A 2018-19, HC 730.—(Paul Maynard.)
Estimates 2018-19 (Army) Vote A
That, during the year ending with 31 March 2019, a number not exceeding 107,630 all ranks be maintained for Army Service and that numbers in the Reserve Land Forces be authorised for the purposes of Parts 1, 3, 4 and 5 of the Reserve Forces Act 1996 up to the maximum numbers set out in Votes A 2018-19, HC 730.—(Paul Maynard.)
Estimates 2018-19 (Air) Vote A
That, during the year ending with 31 March 2019, a number not exceeding 35,290 all ranks be maintained for Air Force Service and that numbers in the Reserve Air Forces be authorised for the purposes of Parts 1, 3, 4 and 5 of the Reserve Forces Act 1996 up to the maximum numbers set out in Votes A 2018-19, HC 730.—(Paul Maynard.)
[Relevant Document: Nineteenth Report of the Committee of Public Accounts, Excess Votes 2016-17, HC 806.]
That, for the year ending with 31 March 2017—
(1) resources, not exceeding £65,506,000, be authorised to make good excesses for use for current purposes as set out in Statement of Excesses 2016–17, HC 810, and
(2) resources, not exceeding £55,000, be authorised to make good excesses for use for capital purposes as set out in Statement of Excesses 2016–17, HC 810.—(Paul Maynard.)
Supplementary Estimates 2017-18
That, for the year ending with 31 March 2018:
(1) further resources, not exceeding £146,208,006,000, be authorised for use for current purposes, in accordance with HC 786, HC 788, HC 796 and HC 808,
(2) further resources, not exceeding £12,431,023,000, be authorised for use for capital purposes, in accordance with HC 786, HC 788, HC 796 and HC 808, and
(3) the sums authorised for issue out of the Consolidated Fund be reduced by £7,361,664,000, in accordance with HC 786, HC 788, and HC 808.—(Paul Maynard.)
Vote on Account 2018-19
That, for the year ending with 31 March 2019:
(1) resources, not exceeding £235,886,869,000, be authorised, on account, for use for current purposes as set out in HC 773, HC 789, HC 797, HC 804, HC 809, and HC 811,
(2) resources, not exceeding £37,276,930,000, be authorised, on account, for use for capital purposes as so set out, and
(3) a sum, not exceeding £227,251,036,000, be granted to Her Majesty to be issued by the Treasury out of the Consolidated Fund, on account, and applied for expenditure on the use of resources authorised by Parliament.—(Paul Maynard.)
Ordered, That a Bill be brought in upon the foregoing Resolutions relating to Supplementary Estimates 2017-2018, Excesses 2016-2017, and Vote on Account 2018-2019;
That the Chairman of Ways and Means, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Elizabeth Truss, Mel Stride, Robert Jenrick and John Glen bring in the Bill.
Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill
Presentation and First Reading
Mel Stride accordingly presented a Bill to authorise the use of resources for the years ending with 31 March 2017, 31 March 2018 and 31 March 2019; to authorise the issue of sums out of the Consolidated Fund for the years ending 31 March 2018 and 31 March 2019; and to appropriate the supply authorised by this Act for the years ending with 31 March 2017 and 31 March 2018.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 171).