Examination of Witnesses (Questions 230-239)|
WEDNESDAY 19 JUNE 2002
230. Good evening, gentlemen. I apologise for
making you wait. I am afraid we have been taking some very interesting
evidence and I am sure you will understand. Would you be kind
enough to identify yourselves for the record?
(Mr Rix) I am Mick Rix, General Secretary
(Mr Crow) Bob Crow, General Secretary, RMT.
(Mr Rosser) Richard Rosser, General Secretary, TSSA.
231. Is there any one of you who wants to make
some opening remarks or do you have someone who would speak for
all three of you?
(Mr Rosser) I should like to make some opening remarks
on my own behalf.
232. Please begin.
(Mr Rosser) Looking at the terms of reference, there
is certainly something I wanted to say about the issue of levels
of investment as far as the TOCs are concerned in the North of
England and it is simply this. There are several so-called experts,
independent people, who are producing figures to say that at current
prices it now costs two or three times more than it did in the
days of BR to undertake major investment projects. Obviously our
concern on that, particularly bearing in mind that the SRA's plan
of proposals for the next ten years is not exactly heavily weighted
in favour of the North, is that if we are also faced with a situation
where, for reasons that we perhaps will not go into, it appears
to cost more nowadays at current prices to carry out projects
than in the days of BR, whether in fact the money that is there
is going to deliver the projects claimed. If you look at the track
and re-signalling scheme, the Leeds First scheme, for example,
that was originally expected to cost some £165 million and
is now estimated to have cost £245 million. The second point
I should like to make is that clearly it is quite crucial as far
as the services in northern England are concerned that there is
co-operation and trust between the PTEs and the Train Operating
Companies. As I know your Committee will be more than aware, that
trust does not always seem to exist at the present time and really
does need to be rectified. One appreciates, having said that,
that there is a little bit of a clash of interest because the
PTEs inevitably tend to look at things from the local service
perspective, companies like East Coast Mainline and West Cost
Mainline will obviously look at it from a rather wider perspective
than that and the freight companies have a different view. This
does emphasise the importance, frankly, of the role of the Strategic
Rail Authority and, I would say, the need to remember that it
is a national rail network and to remember that what happens in
one part of the system can have an effect on what is happening
many miles away. The third point I should like to make is that
I think there is a lot of scope for further railway re-openings
in the North of England. One can still think of quite large population
centres without a rail service: Washington, Leigh, Skelmersdale,
Blyth, which are not rail linked. In fact railway re-openings,
as opposed to the construction of completely new lines, is pretty
good value for money when compared with the cost of road building,
dual carriageway and certainly much better value than building
a motorway. We do very much support the approach in the SRA plan
where the SRA Chairman has made it very clear that the money is
there to preserve and maintain the services which already exist.
He has said particularly, for example, in the regional networks
where the cost of supporting those is significantly higher. We
have seen one or two articles in the media recently by people
who have questioned whether we ought to be continuing with some
of the rural routes and we hope that statement by the Chairman
of the SRA means as far as the SRA is concerned we are not about
to embark on any form of Beeching Mark II. Our concern about the
SRA and the letting of the franchises in the North of England
is that they may be looking for significant reductions or reductions
in costs over what it is currently costing to run those franchises.
They are after all putting them out to competition. If that is
the case, we fear that will have an adverse effect on quality
of service and indeed on staffing. After all, the reason why the
existing operators are in trouble is because when the original
franchises were taken out there were some very over-optimistic
bids, I have no doubt by companies which simply took the view
that British Rail was inefficient, therefore ipso facto
it must be possible to achieve substantial savings. Many of those
companies have found out that British Rail was not quite so bad
at operating railway services as they may have chosen to imagine.
A further point in relation to freight traffic. We are concerned,
because it is particularly important in the North of England,
at speculation there has been in the media that there may be moves
to reduce the value given to rail projects in reducing road congestion
in the context of the Government's review of the ten-year plan,
expected shortly. We very much hope that is not the case because
if there is, or that does prove to be true, it presumably means
that fewer rail projects will be deemed to be viable. May I also
say a word on the split between the Trans-Pennine and Northern
franchises? Our members concerned certainly feel that it is a
rather artificial split and are not quite sure why the SRA are
pursuing it. If you do make splits, you do reduce flexibility
and it can lead to increases in costs in relation to franchises
which are not very healthy financially anyway. We believe as far
as the services in the North are concerned, indeed we say this
throughout the country, that there is a need for clockface timetables
on all routes so that people will know when the services are running
and encourage use. We do not agree with some of the pricing strategies,
which appear to be trying to price out of the market passengers
who just turn up on the day and want to travel. This actually
seems to be contrary to the policies of many local authorities
which are seeking to discourage car use. It does not seem very
helpful if the local railway company has a fares policy which
does not seem to be in accord with that. There also appears to
be some frustration which is expressed to us by our members at
the sometimes very slow progress being made over the re-opening
of local stations. One example which has been quoted to us is
Haxby and Strensall on the York to Scarborough line. There is,
as they see it, an inability between the SRA, Railtrack and the
TOCs to work together with the local councils to find agreeable
solutions. At least there will be a bit more impetus being given
there. A final point on the letting. It looks like being the two
franchises but the letting of the franchises should not just be
based on which is the cheapest, it should actually be looked at
to see which is the one which gives most added value to the rail
233. We shall take up various of those points.
(Mr Crow) We put in a written submission on 10 June
on the terms of reference of the inquiry being held today. We
welcome the Committee's inquiry into rail services in the North
of England. We believe that the problems in this area illustrate
wider problems with the Government's rail strategy, lack of co-ordination,
lack of clarity, over-reliance on private funding and discredited
private companies. The current franchising process serves to institutionalise
these problems rather than resolve them. RMT's considered view
is that without a properly accountable public railway, improvements
will be difficult to deliver. I support all that Richard said
on behalf of his union, the TSSA. The point we should like to
get over is that after the 2001 General Election bidding was re-started
following concerns about the robustness of the process and its
vulnerability to legal challenge from other bidders. At that point
the scope of the franchise was reduced substantially so that the
winner of the bidding would be the company which offered best
value. The current plan is that the new franchise will start in
2003, however the Strategic Rail Authority have now scaled down
Sir Alastair's initial proposals, the inter-city concept, so that
there will be no infrastructure investment in the first contract
phase. Proposed major infrastructure enhancements to the infrastructure
surrounding Manchester Victoria are now off the agenda. New bids
will be focused around Manchester Piccadilly, at which there are
major train path constraints. There will be no re-opening of the
Sheffield/Manchester route via Woodhead Tunnel as proposed by
the South Yorkshire PTA because of lack of funds and train paths
at Manchester. The rolling stock is now likely to be pre-owned
or cascaded, probably ex-Midland Mainline stock, rather than new
inter-city stock. Those are our major concerns and as a result
of that we have submitted 33 points in our written submission
which you should have received on 10 June.
234. You will find our questions are based on
what you have told us. How do you compare industrial relations
between staff on the Arriva franchises and the other Northern
(Mr Crow) We have major problems with Arriva. We have
been in dispute with them and had 13 days of action. We have no
confidence in their industrial relations whatsoever. Even though
we are opposed to privatisation of the railways network we have
to deal with the employers of the day and we have a partnership
arrangement with GNER and have a good industrial relations record
with GNER. We do not have a problem when we are asking for release
of the representatives to consult either with our office or vice-versa.
On the industrial relations side, we certainly have a far better
relationship with GNER than our non-existent industrial relationship
235. Do they consult with you?
(Mr Crow) GNER do; yes.
236. Are you saying Arriva do not?
(Mr Crow) We have been in dispute with Arriva since
the beginning of January and there has been a total breakdown.
237. Has there been any indication that there
will be any changes in that situation?
(Mr Crow) No, not at the moment.
238. Mr Rosser, your members have been involved
in that area.
(Mr Rosser) Yes, I would agree with what Bob has said
about GNER. We too would comment favourably on our working relationships
with that particular company. One might say that perhaps GNER
might be financially a little bit better off. As far as Arriva
is concerned and the current situation, as your Committee will
know, during 2001 the SRA entered into cost-plus agreements with
Arriva which means that the SRA has to consent to major management
actions, as though we were in the last 12 months of the franchise.
One has to say on the industrial relations front at the moment,
it does appearcertainly that was the case a few weeks agothat
the company's hands might be being tied.
239. Are you saying that the reason they are
giving you for their problems and the fact that they are not negotiating
with you at the present moment, is that they are constrained by
the actions of the Strategic Rail Authority?
(Mr Rosser) It took a lot of dragging out of them,
but eventually they did turn round and say this, that the SRA
would not clear things. I would have to say that the most recent
contact we have had with the company is that the stance they are
taking is that irrespective of the stance of the SRA they themselves
would not wish to move any further.