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Network Rail (Scotland)

Volume 623: debated on Wednesday 15 March 2017

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the transfer of land and assets in Scotland currently in the ownership of Network Rail Limited to a body nominated by the Scottish Government; to transfer responsibilities for the management of the land and assets transferred and for the management and accountability for rail infrastructure in Scotland to the Scottish Government; and for connected purposes.

If we are to provide a meaningful future for people, improve their lives, and help them to remain connected and be better connected with their friends and neighbours, the best way to make sure there are opportunities for social progress, to boost trade and to ensure people’s unique circumstances are represented is to bring power as close to home as possible.

Nowhere is the opportunity for rapid benefit more evident than in the current situation with Network Rail in Scotland. Network Rail employees around Scotland work hard, but the organisation simply is not accountable for the work it is asked to undertake on behalf of the Scottish Government. Devolving control over Network Rail to the Scottish Parliament would improve the efficiency and effectiveness of railway operations in Scotland, saving around £100 million a year, and that is before the hundreds of millions in cost overruns are calculated.

Fifty-four per cent. of delay minutes in Scotland are directly attributed to Network Rail. Critical functions such as capacity planning, major project delivery, timetabling and legal property management functions therefore need to be devolved.

As I said, the Scottish Government fund Network Rail and set out its objectives, yet they cannot hold Network Rail to account for those objectives. It is a ridiculous situation that would not be accepted anywhere else and should not be accepted for the people of Scotland. An independent review of major rail projects concluded that there are fundamental weaknesses in Network Rail’s delivery of major projects in Scotland. It highlighted a £379 million increase in project costs and exposed weaknesses in Network Rail’s project governance, controls and performance reporting. It also highlighted weak and inconsistent cost forecasting and, on top of that, significantly higher costs to comply with national standards.

The decision by the UK Government to sell off public assets in their relentless ideological drive toward further privatisation is the wrong track to take, and the Secretary of State for Transport will find no support for it from the Scottish National party. There is, however, one statement that he has made, underlining the challenges for railway development, that we can agree with. On 6 December last year, he said, when speaking about the Oxford to Cambridge line:

“Train companies take the blame for the problems of Network Rail—and Network Rail has little or no contact with passengers, and so has had little reason to focus on the best possible customer service. In my experience passengers don’t understand the division between the two. They just want someone to be in charge. I agree with them. Report after report commissioned by the Government has pointed in the direction of a simpler railway, with less contracting complexity, and more localised decision making.”

He added:

“Whether it’s planning essential repairs, putting in place improvements that can squeeze extra services in on a crowded route, or responding quickly to a problem on the network, our railway is much better run by one joined up team of people.”

The UK Government can sort this. The flashing warning light for us is this: if the controller feels this is the right approach to conduct for Cambridge and Oxford, why is it not right for Scotland?

That is not the only perhaps surprising view that we agree with. We also agree with the former Labour Transport Minister, Tom Harris, who called for Network Rail in Scotland to be fully accountable to the Scottish Government, saying:

“Instead, we need fundamental change to the governance of Network Rail. The Scottish Government is responsible for the strategic direction and funding of the Scottish rail network, but this responsibility cannot be properly exercised while Network Rail remains answerable to the UK Government. Reform Scotland believes that Network Rail in Scotland should be fully accountable to the Scottish Government, and that means it must be devolved.”

Devolution of Network Rail is the sensible and best approach. Transport is already devolved; it therefore surely follows that the management of rail infrastructure should also be devolved. No reasonable person, even in a domestic situation, would agree to commission works, agree to pay for those works, and then have no rights over the final cost or any comeback if it went beyond the agreed timescales—so why should Scotland? It is no surprise that the Secretary of State for Transport cannot sell the idea to the private sector. He is happy to indulge in the retrograde step and slippery slope of privatisation of Network Rail, in effect devolving it to the private sector, yet we are to be told that step is not available for the public sector in Scotland. Instead of making ill-judged and poorly thought out moves towards ever increasing privatisation for the UK’s railways, the UK Government should be giving power over Network Rail to the Scottish Parliament, which can then make decisions to improve the service in Scotland for the Scottish public.

There are challenges in Scotland with the rail network, but even being held back by the current arrangements, 92 out of 100 Scotrail trains arrive at their destination within the recognised punctuality measure—92%, compared with 87% on average across the rest of the UK. The SNP Scottish Government have ensured that fares are capped, and passengers travelling on both ScotRail’s peak and off-peak services have regulated fares. As a result, they are benefiting from the lowest level of increases since the selected powers were devolved in 2005. All of that proves that where powers reside in Scotland, a better deal for the Scottish public can be delivered. Customer satisfaction in Scotland is seven points higher than average in the rest of the UK, and that is a good foundation to build on.

We could take even greater steps to improve those figures if control was within the power of the Scottish Parliament. The former Labour Transport Minister agrees that devolving control over Network Rail to Scotland is the right move, and the Secretary of State for Transport clearly agrees with the principle, even if he is unwilling to apply it to Scotland, so why wait? All powers to make decisions on Scotland should be taken in Scotland, where we can plan better long-term outcomes. There should never be even the remotest possibility that we might be forced to swallow the bitter pill prescribed by some future Dr Beeching. We are still recovering from the resulting harmful and unnecessary surgery, as is best demonstrated by the rebuilding of the fantastic new Borders rail link. Of course, we should never have had to undertake that reconstructive surgery in the first place.

Scotland is a country teeming with talented people who can—if given the freedom to do so, with powers reclaimed in order to look after the interests of all of her citizens—deliver on a vision for a fairer, better connected and inclusive society. The people of Scotland will have their voice heard on this issue and many others in due course. Scotland is at a junction: we can continue with the tired old Southern rail approach—in the rickety old carriage, with the glum passengers, without even a seat on the train and being ignored by those making the decisions—or we could choose to get off the one-way track into the buffers. With the powers to make choices in Scotland, starting now with those over Network Rail, we could plan a journey to a better, more open and more connected Scotland, a journey of discovery and potential realised for all who call Scotland their home.

Question put and agreed to.


That Drew Hendry, Alex Salmond, Jonathan Edwards, Mark Durkan, Michelle Thomson, Roger Mullin, Caroline Lucas, Stewart Malcolm McDonald, Alan Brown and Kirsty Blackman present the Bill.

Drew Hendry accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 24 March, and to be printed (Bill 155).

Health Service Medical Supplies (Costs) Bill (Programme) (No. 2)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

That the following provisions shall apply to the Health Service Medical Supplies (Costs) Bill for the purpose of supplementing the Order of 24 October 2016 (Health Service Medical Supplies (Costs) Bill (Programme)):

Consideration of Lords Amendments

(1) Proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement at today’s sitting.

(2) The proceedings shall be taken in the following order: Lords Amendments Nos. 3, 1, 2 and 4 to 24.

Subsequent stages

(3) Any further Message from the Lords may be considered forthwith without any Question being put.

(4) The proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.—(Mr Dunne.)

Question agreed to.