Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Spellar: Will the hon. Gentleman tell us how much additional funding the Opposition are committing to London transport, so that we can add up their overall transport budget?

Mr. Chope: Clearly, the Minister anticipates that this process will continue until the next general election. If nothing is sorted out by then, we shall explain to the electorate exactly what we will do. We are facing up to the reality that there is a funding gap. The Government—for worse rather than for better—are in office, and they are responsible for answering the question of what will be done about that funding gap. The Minister is trying to find all sorts of excuses for not coming up with answers, and, up to now, he has blamed increased numbers of people living in London and the growth in the economy for the Government's failure to get to grips with the problems of London underground.

27 Jun 2002 : Column 1027

London underground users have become the victims of a squeeze by the Treasury, which is determined that any capital investment in the infrastructure is off balance sheet—Enron and WorldCom-style accounting—even if it means delay, poor value for money and de facto abandonment of the principle of risk transfer. Meanwhile, we have Transport for London, and a Mayor who is openly hostile to the private sector. Between them, the Mayor and the previous Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Tyneside, North have made the private sector unwilling to invest except very much on their terms. That is why we have a PPP for seven and a half years, after which it can be torn up by the private sector, leaving Londoners with an incomplete project and a substantial liability to repay the debt.

This saga is an appalling indictment of the Government. It is a betrayal of the interests of the people of London. They deserve better. I hope that the Minister, in his reply, will assure them that we will get answers quickly, and that we will see material changes for the better in the quality of London underground.

4.45 pm

Mr. Spellar: On 8 May, the Government responded in full to the Select Committee's two recent reports on London Underground's modernisation plans. We welcome Parliament's continued interest in this important subject. That is what it says on my brief. That interest has been pretty thin, however, on the Opposition Benches. We have had contributions from two London Conservatives and two London Liberal Democrats. My hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Harry Cohen) asked for another debate, but Opposition Members are not exactly bursting for it. They, like the public in London, are getting pretty bored with this subject; they want us to get on with it and start delivering improvements for the travelling public in London.

It is fair to say that these plans have been subjected throughout their development to an unprecedented level of scrutiny, and not just from Parliament. They have been examined and challenged at every opportunity by numerous critics, and they represent probably the most robust and rigorous public-private partnership proposal ever. Bluntly, we can either move forward with these plans or go back to methods that failed passengers in the past. Neither the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) nor the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) had a clear answer to that.

I also know that underground staff want to focus on running a world-class train service for customers. My hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) rightly took the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) to task for his deplorable comments about London underground. No one denies that there are improvements to be made. We should also look at the real progress that has been made by London Underground. Last year, the amount of wasted customer time due to delays was cut by nearly 7 per cent., and more than 95 per cent. of its peak hour trains ran on time. Those improvements are being maintained—and in many cases bettered—this year. Recently, the tube broke a record by running more than 5,000 rush hour trains without a single cancellation due to missing drivers.

27 Jun 2002 : Column 1028

Instead of the talk about third-world services and all that nonsense written by journalists, we should be congratulating those staff who have successfully delivered a frequent and reliable service under the new Central line timetable. We should also congratulate the Northern line staff who have banished memories of the "misery line"—of which headline writers were so fond—by providing a service good enough to impress even the Financial Times. Across the network, customers are now giving London Underground some of its highest ever customer satisfaction scores. It is listening to its customers and finding new ways to improve its service—for example, by implementing a range of better ticketing facilities, and putting more staff on platforms to help reduce the time trains spend in stations.

I—even if the hon. Member for Croydon, South was not—was very impressed by the commitment and dedication to passengers demonstrated by the staff who ran a continuous 42-hour service during the recent jubilee celebrations. Within an hour of the event finishing on the Monday evening, 1 million people had been dispersed safely and efficiently, most of them on the special tube service. London Underground staff can be proud of the way that they served the public during the celebrations. They deserve better than the contemptuous remarks of the hon. Member for Croydon, South about a third-world service.

We also know, however, that London Underground's track record on the management of infrastructure projects is less good. It is almost a tale of two jubilees. Its success during the golden jubilee contrasts starkly with the Jubilee line extension project—delivered 20 months late, yet still not providing the expected level of performance. An extra £1.4 billion had to be found to complete the project. In answer to the Liberal Democrats, there is a world of difference between contracting for a service or undertaking the negotiations for the contract, and actually trying to micro-manage that contract. London Underground's performance in trying to pull together and integrate all the elements of the contract has not been good. It has a successive record of failure on price and on time in relation to trying to micro-manage that. However, projects such as that for the docklands light railway have come in to price and on time. We want to ensure that London Underground is able to do better in future.

We believe that the PPP will ensure better results, because it has been designed to put passengers first. Unlike alternative plans, it provides answers to the questions that really matter to the passengers. Will a service be available? How quickly will that service get me to my destination? Will the service be clean, comfortable and pleasant? Another aspect is not part of the PPP, but it is important. British Transport police are doing much work to make the service safe and secure.

The companies involved will have to meet demanding targets to satisfy passengers on those issues. They must install high-quality equipment on time, make it work and maintain it well. However, they will also have the freedom to innovate and to look for new ways to satisfy their customers. If they succeed, they will be rewarded, not excessively, as the Mayor alleges, but with an appropriate rate of return. However, that will be balanced by the considerable risks that they will take on. If they fail, they will be penalised, with no limit to the size of the penalties. Every penny of the money provided by shareholders—some £500 million—is therefore at risk.

27 Jun 2002 : Column 1029

That is why the plans offer the right incentives. They concentrate not on administrative processes, but on getting the right results for passengers.

I was surprised by the comments of the hon. Member for Croydon, South who said that we should monitor inputs rather than outputs. I would have thought that the essence of modern contracting was to consider the outputs one achieves and to leave inputs to the specialists who are best able to deal with them. His remarks revealed very backward thinking.

We know that the proposed methods work. The new Northern line trains—I have mentioned the great improvements in reliability—supplied under PFI have helped underground staff to transform the old "misery line" into one of the best performing parts of the system. The trains run at about 98 or 99 per cent. reliability.

Mr. Gardiner: Has my right hon. Friend looked at the year-on-year funding for the tube against the successive three-year funding commitments given over the past 20 years? Has he noticed that Governments have consistently failed to deliver the investment that they promised? Does he understand therefore that, for many of my constituents, the chief attraction of the PPP is that the Government are contractually committed to putting the money in year on year and cannot suddenly decide in 10 years' time that their political priorities lie elsewhere? Does he understand that the public sector route is the route of uncertain investment—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. That is far too long an intervention for this stage of the debate, especially if it is being read.

Mr. Spellar: But it was valuable none the less, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and very well expressed. As my hon. Friend rightly suggests, £1 billion will be sustained year on year and that will be enormously welcomed by the travelling public.

Next Section

IndexHome Page