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Rail Announcement

Volume 638: debated on Tuesday 27 March 2018

With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the future of the west coast main line, our plans for the integration of track and train on our railways and our plans for the transition to the operation of High Speed 2 as it opens up in 2026.

I have already set out for the House our plans to bring the operation of track and train together on a day-to-day operational basis around the country, with the creation of new alliances between Network Rail and the train operators on south eastern and midland main line and the strengthening of the existing alliance arrangements on south western and southern. I have also set out our plans for a new partnership between the public and private sectors to operate the east coast main line.

Today I want to explain how this approach could start to inform the development of the west coast main line and HS2. I am also today publishing the invitation to tender to be the new west coast partner, which, subject to their delivering on their commitments, will operate the route until 2031 and will work with HS2 Ltd to pave the way for the opening of HS2. The west coast main line is one of the busiest mixed rail routes, if not the busiest, in Europe: it carries commuter traffic to six of our biggest cities and express trains between them; it provides essential intermediate services to places such as Milton Keynes, Coventry, Warrington and Preston; it is an essential link to north Wales, Scotland and Ireland; and it is also one of our busiest freight routes. It is this complex mix of traffic that is a key part of the case for building HS2 so that we have the capacity to meet these growing needs in the future.

The west coast franchise has been very successful in recent years, with high passenger satisfaction and substantial revenue growth for the taxpayer. I intend the new contract to build on that, up to and including 2026. There is already a close working relationship between Network Rail and the train operator, and I intend that to deepen under the new contract with the new operator. After that, however, the way in which we run the railway will change. After 2026, the express services will start to move off an increasingly congested part of the existing network and on to HS2. Brand-new and more frequent trains will provide additional capacity on faster services, and space will be freed up on the existing routes for improved services to other destinations. That will require a carefully managed transition as initial services provide travel to Birmingham and then, gradually, the HS2 network provides more and more of the inter-city service.

I want to explain today how the new contract will ensure that that smooth transition takes place, and to set out what we are working towards. I should emphasise that final decisions on the transition and the operational details are years away, but I think it right that, as we publish this new invitation to tender, we start to look towards what that end point could be. For example, HS2 could be an integrated railway operation, in charge of both its infrastructure and its services. That would be akin to what is provided on some Japanese high-speed lines, and would accord with the Government’s strategy of bringing together track and train. It could also be structured as a public-private partnership. There will be other options that we should explore before final decisions are made.

The exact shape and end state of the organisation does not need to be decided now, but I am very clear about one thing. I want HS2 Ltd to become a strong British organisation, potentially capable of not just building but operating a successful railway here. It should also become a strong international champion for the United Kingdom, as the organisation that runs Manchester Airport has done. Manchester Airports Group is a strong and effective organisation that has expanded in the UK, running first-rate operations here, and is now doing so internationally. It has proved itself to be effective at managing major projects and delivering good customer service. Today’s announcement, however, is not about creating a long-term organisational model for HS2. As we move into the 2020s we will need to prepare for the introduction of services, and through this new arrangement my Department is paving the way for that introduction.

The winner of the competition will help to design the new HS2 services, develop a new customer offering to take advantage of 21st-century technology and revolutionise the way we travel on high-speed rail, and provide input for my Department and HS2. It will run the existing west coast main line services until HS2 passenger services are introduced. After that it will continue to run successor services on the west coast main line until 2031, albeit to a different set of timetables and priorities, with a refocused service aimed at those intermediate locations. Between now and the start of HS2 services, it will also help to plan the introduction of the express trains to the new line and the move from one line to another, and help to put in place all the customer-facing resources that are necessary for the delivery of an excellent service on day one. If it performs strongly, it will also operate services on behalf of HS2 for a limited period after 2026. During that period, my Department will be closely involved with operations to ensure that the envisaged connectivity benefits of HS2 are realised.

The contract also includes a number of safeguards such as restrictions on branding, transfer of intellectual property and requirements for collaboration with HS2. That means that, while we will harness the innovative thinking of the private sector, no one bidder will be able to create something that only it could run in the future. The operator will also work with the Department and HS2 to consider the options for the end state, including what would be required for the transition to fully integrated operations undertaken by an eventual combined organisation. That short-term arrangement will be very similar to the modus operandi on Crossrail next year after it formally begins services as the Elizabeth line for Transport for London.

Throughout this period, the new operator will also deliver a high-quality experience for passengers and continue to drive growth on the existing west coast main line. Passengers will benefit from enhanced compensation for delays of more than 15 minutes, fares and ticketing systems that are simpler to understand, and the introduction of an accessibility panel to advise on all aspects of the way in which the railway is operated. It is important to ensure that all passengers are placed firmly at the heart of all planning decisions.

What I am setting in train today for the West Coast Partnership are our plans to keep industry-leading services on the west coast until HS2 enters operation, to ensure that the first HS2 services are delivered with the help of an experienced operator that has been working hard to plan for their introduction, and to use that approach to help to inform decisions on what the final shape of the organisation should be. I believe that that is the best way of ensuring a smooth transition to what will be an exciting new future for our railways, and I commend my statement to the House.

I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement, but I am perplexed as to why he has come to Parliament to announce a set of administrative arrangements. There are so many pressing rail issues that the Secretary of State should be bringing to the House, not least the promise to come back to the House about future arrangements on the east coast, which was of course due weeks ago, rather than to announce invitations to tender for rail franchises. If this House spent all its time looking at every franchise, we would not get through any other business. The statement is simply thin gruel. Once again it sets out vague aspirations and possible options. Yet again it is evidence that the Government will not set out a strategic direction, but instead just delegate decisions to the private sector.

There are huge questions about the recent history of track and train alliances. That did not work on the south-western railway; it failed. Why will it be any different under this partnership? Today’s announcement about an announcement is setting the course of the Government’s real priority, which is privatisation of the infrastructure: a partnership with a private company, but extending its grip into the infrastructure, too.

Why would the Secretary of State bring the profit motive back into safety-critical parts of the railway? We must never forget why Labour brought Railtrack back into public ownership: it was for the safety of the great British public. None of us on the Labour Benches will ever forget the past, and how private profit was the objective. With private, we know that the objective is to put money into the shareholders’ pockets, not to invest in the public. This is why Labour’s plan to rescue the railways and bring them back into public ownership is more imperative than ever; the public demand it. Labour would never take such a risk with public safety, nor with public money.

Last month’s supplementary estimate report said that the Department for Transport’s rail revenue from train operators was down nearly £250 million this year and a Treasury bail-out of £60 million was needed. That is hardly evidence of a system working, is it?

Franchising has completely failed, with 13 direct awards and extensions to contracts. The west coast, however, is the jewel in the crown of the rail network. The Labour Government spent £9 billion upgrading it, but now the Secretary of State wants to flog off the family silver before it is even in public hands.

The UK railways have the best safety record in Europe; will the Secretary of State’s plans guarantee this excellent safety record? The UK railways’ safety record has been based on a rigorous risk management system; how will these plans ensure that the risk management approach will continue across the whole network? Is this not a return to the bad old days of Railtrack?

Of course, the railway is about the growth of our economy, and the Secretary of State is handing over responsibility for the economy of the north to these private companies; no wonder people do not believe in the northern powerhouse. Why will the Secretary of State not do what the last Labour Government did in 2009 and take this franchise back into public ownership? That is the best way to preserve the taxpayers’ money and the public interest.

Labour’s integrated public rail will benefit the economy, the environment, the Treasury and the public. We look forward to the right to run our railways again.

This is the first time that I have been told off for being informative to the House about what we are doing. We are publishing today a pathfinding franchise agreement that will pave the way for Britain’s most expensive and most substantial new railway for more than 100 years, and I am explaining to the House how we are approaching the issue of making that transition. This does not seem to me to be something I should not be informing the House about, but I am always surprised in this place.

The trouble with Labour is that it just thinks everything private is bad; it seems to be a completely ideological statement. After many years when the Labour party took a relatively common-sense approach to the balance between public and private, it has now walked a million miles away from that: everything private is bad, and it wants to nationalise everything and drive investment out of this country. Let us take an example. Labour cannot explain to us, in its plans to renationalise the railways, what it would do with what will by then be approximately £19 billion of privately owned trains on the network. All the new trains that are coming now and all the new trains that are being delivered in the future are privately owned. Where will the money come from to pay for those, and to pay for the new trains in the future? We get no answer at all from Labour on any of that.

The hon. Lady talked about safety, and safety is paramount in this country. We have an excellent regulator, and an excellent chief inspector of railways who does a very effective job, in my view, of holding the public and private sectors’ feet to the fire to ensure that we maintain safety standards on the railways. That is something that will continue for the future. She also asked about the northern powerhouse. Let us look at how little investment in the railways took place in the north when Labour was in power. We are replacing every single train in the north, and I have just announced a £3 billion upgrade to the trans-Pennine rail line. We have done upgrades to the Calder Valley line and electrified the line between Liverpool and Manchester. We are currently electrifying the line to Preston. Those are things that never happened under Labour. The replacement of every single train in the north of England is something new or nearly new. None of that happened during Labour’s 13 years in power.

The hon. Lady wants to take the west coast main line back into public ownership, but that is a railway line that is performing well and has very high levels of passenger satisfaction. The last thing we would want to do is to hand it back to the Government. Let us allow it to carry on succeeding. That is what we are aiming to do. We are setting a path that will lead us to what I hope will be a fantastic new world for Britain’s railways when HS2 opens after 2026.

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. It will be welcomed across my constituency and throughout Cumbria, as will the introduction of Sunday services, starting in May, which will connect us to the west coast main line. Will he tell me what economic advantages this will bring to Copeland and to Cumbria?

The difference that HS2 will make is that it will provide far more capacity and better connections across the whole country. Whether you are coming to London from Cumbria, Manchester, Liverpool or Birmingham, or travelling to points in between, there will be more capacity, faster trains and better connections between intermediate places. That is so important. I am delighted about the arrival of the Sunday services in my hon. Friend’s constituency. She and I stood at Seascale station while a Pacer train chugged past, and she will be delighted to know that in a few months’ time that Pacer train will be in the scrapyard.

I thank the Secretary of State for giving me advance sight of his statement, but it really is lacking in detail. He said that he had already set out plans for a new partnership for the east coast main line, but I suggest that the plans for that line are still unclear. We need a lot more information on that. He also said that the congestion on the west coast main line and its links to Scotland and other areas underpinned the business case for HS2. That raises the question of why HS2 is being built only as far as Crewe, and why a north-south link is not being constructed at the same time.

The Secretary of State has detailed possible methods of operation, but he has said that they do not need to be decided on now, so what are the timescales for deciding future methods of operation? Will he confirm that the public sector will be involved and will be allowed to bid? When will we know the new timetables and priorities for the west coast main line? What will be the bid status for companies that have failed in existing franchises? The existing west coast main line contract was supposed to look at the remodelling of Carstairs Junction, so will he give us a progress report on that? Will he also tell us what discussions he has had with the Scottish Government on the existing underfunding of the rail settlement to Scotland, and on the impact that that could have on the west coast main line?

What tender appraisal lessons has the Secretary of State learned from existing failed franchises? What checks and balances will there be to ensure that we do not see further compensation disputes, conflicts of interest and armies of cost consultants involved in these franchises? What west coast main line upgrades will there be north of Crewe? I note that the current proposals will mean that new HS2 trains will run more slowly north of Crewe than the existing Virgin trains do. That would be an unacceptable performance measure, so will he tell us what upgrades are planned for north of Crewe? Lastly, his Department has already needed £60 million from the Treasury to balance the books this year because of the failures in the existing franchise system. How sustainable will the future franchises be?

On that last point, there was a revenue issue last year around Govia Thameslink Railway and the completely unnecessary strike action taken by the unions. I am happy that that railway is now mostly back to normal and I hope that we will not have that issue again. The hon. Gentleman asked about the east coast main line. I will come back to the House when it is the right moment to do so, when we are ready to set out the approach that we are going to take. It is important to ensure that that is dealt with on a value-for-money basis but also on an operational basis, to ensure that passengers are not affected by the trouble on that route at the moment.

The hon. Gentleman asked about timetables on the west coast main line. That will come from the bids that are tabled for that particular route, depending on how the bidders plan to enhance services. The invitation to tender starts today, and we will start to get the proposals back during the course of this year. Of course, no one can bid for a franchise without a passport, and that will continue to be the case. He also asked about the funding level for Scotland. I simply remind him that the Government have provided more than would have been provided under the Barnett formula. Scottish Members normally argue for the Barnett formula, except when it is inconvenient for them to do so. The reality is that they should be glad to get anything more than the Barnett formula, because that is what they always argue that Scotland should receive.

The hon. Gentleman asked about learning lessons from failure. As I said in my previous statement on the east coast main line, we have tightened the risk-sharing mechanisms and we will be watching this particular franchise like a hawk to ensure that it is financially solid and robust. He also asked about the speed of journeys to Scotland. Of course, HS2 will reduce journey times to Scotland. There is an issue north of Crewe because the new classic-compatible trains are not tilting trains, and that is something we will have to address as we go through the 2020s, but the reality is that journey times to Scotland will be reduced as a result of HS2 arriving. That is part of delivering better services right across the country and, crucially, delivering jobs right across the country. That will happen all across Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement. What he has outlined will mean a smooth transition to the national network upgrade that HS2 will deliver. Will he give the House a little more information about what the announcement will mean for passenger rail fares on the west coast main line?

It is really important that HS2 does not become a premium service that today’s passengers cannot afford to travel on. Our expectation is that fare structures will stay broadly similar, and it is certainly not my intention to create a situation where HS2 suddenly becomes much more expensive than the west coast main line is today.

There was not actually much new information in the Secretary of State’s statement, but it is clear that this invitation to tender is late, because it was expected in November last year. Will he explain the reason for the delay and its implications? Can he confirm that the award date is still November 2018, and that the new franchise will still start on 1 April 2019? Will he tell us whether the delay will have any wider impact on the Department’s rail franchise schedule?

We do not expect this to have a significant impact on the franchise schedule. As the hon. Lady knows, we have just put in place a direct award to tide us over because of the delay. Things might be slightly late, but we are broadly in line with our original timetabling plans. It is important to get these things right. Also, given that the franchising team has had quite a lot to deal with lately, it is important to ensure that they have the time to get the detail right. That is what we have been seeking to do.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his statement. Will he explain how, as the plans proceed, the economy of the north-west will benefit from the improved connectivity, particularly around the hub at Manchester airport? Will he tell us how that will improve the economy in the Greater Manchester area as well?

The hub around the airport is going to be particularly important, and it is very much on my mind as we develop phase 2b of HS2 and move towards the development of Northern Powerhouse Rail, where there must be a strong connection with the airport. The other benefit of the investment will be that it will create the space for more commuter services around Manchester. I know that there is significant congestion there—I have seen it in my hon. Friend’s constituency—and we need to provide better commuter services into Manchester, and indeed into Birmingham, Leeds and London. That is one of the things that HS2 will do, by taking the existing express trains off the existing routes.

Is the Secretary of State aware that if no changes are made to the proposals for HS2 as it goes through Derbyshire, 1,000 jobs will be lost at McArthurGlen, which is not far from South Normanton, and that more than 30 houses will be knocked down at Newton in my constituency? I have been working with the people at Newton in order to find alternatives, so will the Secretary of State meet the Newton people with a view to seeing whether there are any decent proposals for tunnelling, rather than knocking the houses down, and for ensuring that the jobs at McArthurGlen are safe? Will he give us that assurance today, so that I can make arrangements with the Newton people to come and take part in discussions?

As I have said all the way through, it is not possible to do something on this scale without having an adverse effect somewhere, but we will always do our best to minimise the impact. We are also always willing to have a dialogue with Members from across the House about such situations, so I will of course have that dialogue. I want to try to ensure that we do not adversely affect centres of major employment, so either the HS2 Minister or I will happily pursue a conversation with the hon. Gentleman.

Stafford and Stoke-on-Trent currently have direct, high-speed services to Liverpool and Manchester respectively. However, the HS2 proposals mean that high-speed services from Stafford and Stoke will end at Macclesfield, so we will lose our direct connection with the northern powerhouse. That is unacceptable. Will the Secretary of State consider the situation again and see how its effects can be alleviated?

I am aware of the situation, and the important thing to say is that we are a long way away from detailed timetabling. I share my hon. Friend’s view about terminating at Macclesfield, and I have told HS2 Ltd to do some work on that. We have to get the timetabling and the flow of services right, and I do not want anywhere to be disadvantaged by the transition.

As a former chair of Manchester airport, I thank the Secretary of State for his kind words about how it has been run. One reason for the airport’s success is that it has been careful in choosing its private sector partners over the years. Will the Secretary of State therefore explain why he is allowing private companies that have not honoured their contractual obligations in franchises to compete for important lines?

There are two points to make when talking about potential long-term private partners. First, the arrangements at Manchester airport have worked well. It is still majority-owned by local authorities, but it actually operates as an independent business with private shareholders. It is a good example of a public-private partnership, which may well be the way forward for HS2 Ltd. That does not mean that the organisations that are running franchises are those that might end up as private partners in the future, because we are looking at a different type of model for the future. Secondly, as for future bidding, as I have said before, I will fulfil my legal obligations, but I will also be as careful as possible to protect the interests of the railways and of passengers.

I welcome the announcement of the invitation to tender for HS2 and the benefits that HS2 will be bring the region. Will the new model be used when the Southern franchise is broken up and re-tendered? Is there a timescale for that?

The current Southern franchise will continue until 2021, and we are working through what the structure should be when it is re-let in a different form. I intend there to be a much closer alliance between Network Rail and the private sector, following a similar kind of model to that which we are using with Southeastern. It is necessary to bring the day-to-day operation of the track and trains together to improve performance. We have done some of that already on the Southern franchise, which has helped to make a difference, and that should continue.

When the Secretary of State talked about Labour spending, he seemed to forget the £8 billion invested in the west coast main line. When Labour took over back in 1997, the line was in a dreadful state, and it is so good today because of that Labour investment. The Secretary of State said several times during his statement that public satisfaction is high, that it is doing well and that it is well run, so what are his reasons for wanting to change it?

The hon. Gentleman asks, “What are the reasons for wanting to change it?”, but we are moving from one franchise to another; we are not looking to make massive changes to how the west coast main line currently operates. When it comes to 2026 and the arrival of HS2, that is a different situation. I am not talking about selling or privatising the infrastructure. Post-2026, we will have a separate network with its own infrastructure, and the question—it is not one for me, but for my successors—will be, “What is the best way of running that railway?” I have set out several strong options today, but the Government’s policy is that bringing together the operation of the track and trains—integration on the railway—is the best way of creating an efficient and effective railway.

We know that the Secretary of State is desperate to get from his home in Surrey to his seat at Old Trafford more quickly, so why are the Government dragging their feet when it comes to funding for the station at Manchester airport and the east-west alignment negotiations at Manchester Piccadilly station?

The biggest challenge in getting to Old Trafford on a match day are all the roadworks on the M60, which are due to our investment in the motorway network, and all the roadworks around Old Trafford, which are down to the support we are providing to Manchester to invest in the extension of the Metrolink.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that Network Rail and Manchester City Council are in detailed discussions about Piccadilly, and we are close to moving forward with desperately needed improvements to the two platforms, and I want that to start soon. As for the airport, we need a really good hub station at the airport, and we are now working through how best to take the Transport for the North proposals for Northern Powerhouse Rail and create a deliverable programme. The first bit of that starts next year with the upgrade of the TransPennine route.

Does the Secretary of State agree that working with private sector partners on the west coast main line has delivered huge improvements to reliability and customer service? Will he reassure my constituents that any operational changes that have been outlined or envisaged today will not have a negative impact on their service?

That is my goal. The thing is that I am very much in favour of the public sector and the private sector working together in partnership, and I have talked about that in other parts of the rail network. The difficulty is that the Opposition do not seem to want the “private” bit at all—everything has to be public. Both sectors bring strengths to the party, and the working partnership that exists today between Network Rail and Virgin Trains on the west coast main line has delivered significant performance and customer satisfaction improvements over the past few years.

Virgin-Stagecoach is not the first, not the second, but the third train company to walk away from the east coast franchise mid-contract, stating that it could only run it for a short number of months. I came running over to the Chamber today in eager anticipation of hearing the Secretary of State say that he was going to set up a directly operated rail company along the lines of the model we had in 2009, which delivered £1 billion back to the taxpayer over six short years. Will he tell the House what he is doing to get the east coast main line franchise back on track, delivering for passengers, staff and taxpayers? Will he ensure that no announcement is snuck out in the middle of the recess?

When we are ready to make an announcement about the future, I will come to the House to do so, and I have said that several times. We are ensuring that we get things right. As I have said before, we have been preparing the alternative operator of last resort for some months. When we are ready to take things forward, I will say so.

The hon. Lady compares the situation with what was there previously, and I simply remind her that, notwithstanding the financial problems in the franchise, it has a high level of passenger satisfaction and is running more trains, employing more people and delivering more money to the taxpayer. The problem is that there has been not enough success, not a lack of it.

In the previous Parliament, the Department was so focused on HS2 that it took its eye off the real challenge facing our country: getting people to and from work in the south-east of England. Will the Secretary of State guarantee that he will not make the same mistake again and that the Southern rail fiasco will never be repeated?

We are slightly in the hands of militant trade unions deciding whether they want to cause trouble, because the analysis of what went wrong showed it was almost entirely down to the action of the trade unions. However, I have also said on many occasions that the unions were not the only issue on that line, and I hope he accepts that performance has improved, but it needs to carry on improving. We need a broad-ranging programme of renewals, because there are still too many track and signal failures, which is why we have set aside the biggest block of funding—£20 billion—for renewals in the next control period. Some of that will flow to the hon. Gentleman’s line, but it will also go around the country to deal with similar issues elsewhere.

Following the excellent question from my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh), may I pick up on the issue of Virgin-Stagecoach and the east coast main line? In a matter of weeks or months the Government will have to make a decision for passengers in our constituencies in Yorkshire and elsewhere, so can the Secretary of State tell us when a decision will be made, whether there will be penalties for Virgin-Stagecoach for walking away from the contract, and whether he will keep on the table the very sensible option of bringing the line back into public ownership?

I have said clearly that I am not simply evaluating, but preparing for two options: one is an operator of last resort controlled by my Department, and the other is a not-for-profit direct award. I will make that decision shortly, and when I do I will come back to the House. It is not just about being ready to make a decision; it is also about knowing whether whichever option I choose is ready to happen. It is as much about preparation as it is about deciding. When we are ready to take that step, we will do so. The reason I am taking the time to get this right is that I do not want passengers—the hon. Lady’s constituents—to notice any change from one day to the next. They are the most important people in this.

We of course welcome any investment in rail, but HS2 must not be allowed to soak it all up. The Government have an incoherent approach to electrification, which has been indefinitely delayed in Oxford and abandoned on the lakes line and the midland main line. Meanwhile, the Government have been pulled up again on air pollution. Why do they not follow their own lead on cars and move away faster from polluting diesel engines?

A central part of our strategy on the roads is hybrid cars, and a central part of our strategy on the railways is hybrid trains. The biggest difference we can make in getting people off the roads and on to rail is to ensure that we expand capacity, and that is what we are doing, with longer trains, new and reopened routes and new stations across the country, creating a better environment for people who want to travel by rail. It is the biggest programme of investment in our railways since the steam age.

The Secretary of State lauds the benefits of reduced journey times between London and Glasgow, but that is not the full picture, because we know that, as a result of the HS2 investment, journey times between Glasgow and Manchester will actually increase. How can this be benefiting all regions of the UK when journey times between Britain’s second and third biggest cities will be increased? Is it not yet another example of putting the profit motive over the real national interest?

This has nothing to do with the profit motive; it has to do with whether or not trains tilt. We need to ensure, through timetabling and planning after HS2 is opened, that we deliver the best possible outcome for all the services and all the destinations it serves. It is not a question of the profit motive or the private sector; it is a question of technical capabilities and how we deliver the best possible outcome.

Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh), my constituency neighbour, can the Secretary of State confirm that Virgin-Stagecoach will be allowed to rebid for the east coast franchise when the contract is put out to tender, because that appears to be verging on the ridiculous?

I think that the hon. Lady has misunderstood our plans. From 2020 we are going to do things completely differently on the east coast main line; we will not be using the current bidding process. We are shaping a public-private partnership. It might be a public-private partnership that brings investment in digital rail, and it might have a completely different corporate structure. We are working through that longer -term plan now while preparing to put in place the intermediate arrangements. It is not a question of who will or will not be allowed to bid, because we have not even decided what the process will be.

It is disappointing that the Secretary of State has today said nothing about the burning issue in the north: poor connectivity between east and west. I am sure that he shares my concern that there is no direct service between Hull and Liverpool, or between Hull and Manchester airport, and that from May trans-Pennine services running from Hull to Manchester will be slower. Will he agree to meet me and key stakeholders from Hull to discuss what he can do to improve connectivity in the north?

I and my ministerial team are always happy to meet to discuss services to the great city of Hull. The hon. Lady is not entirely accurate, because I did refer to the announcement I made a month ago about the start of the £2.9 billion investment in the trans-Pennine upgrade, which will start next spring.

The Minister will know that £1.2 billion was overspent on electrification between London Paddington and Swansea, and he knows that is not the only transport infrastructure project in relation to which the National Audit Office has found overspending. How confident is he that safeguards are in place for future infrastructure contracts for the east and west coast main lines, along with HS2, to prevent overspending that needlessly costs taxpayers millions?

It is always possible for technical problems to arise, as we are seeing in Bolton at the moment, but I think that lessons are being learned. Lessons are certainly being learned from the Great Western main line, which has not been run on an acceptable basis—it has been subject to reviews by the NAO, the Public Accounts Committee and the Transport Committee. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that Network Rail and my Department are seized of the need to ensure that that does not happen in future.