Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 240 - 259)



  240. Am I right in saying the creation of an all Wales and Borders franchise, which we await with bated breath, that that will, to some degree, overcome some of the objections that you have just outlined?
  (Mr Coulshed) As I say, this is a matter for ministers, I do not think it has all that much effect in the sense that the Wales and Borders franchise as conceived by the SRA would involve a number of services running through England, indeed running through many parts of England, certainly the service from Chester to Shrewsbury and down to Newport, large parts of that service operate in England and the services along the North Wales line many of those run into Chester and Manchester, so they are services serving England as well as Wales.

Mrs Williams

  241. The National Assembly does not currently have the power to nominate an SRA board member although one of the members take responsibility for Wales. In the spirit of devolution should the National Assembly nominate its own member?
  (Mr Coulshed) Again, this was a matter which was discussed when the Bill was going through Parliament last year and ministers made clear their view that the members who were appointed to the SRA do not serve as representatives of any particular interest, I take the word "interest" widely, they are there to bring a particular expertise and knowledge.

  242. Do you mean a geographical interest?
  (Mr Coulshed) Yes, that is what I meant.

  243. Do you not think that is important?
  (Mr Coulshed) I am not saying that at all, what I am saying is that ministers took the view whereas it was appropriate for them to consult the National Assembly about the appointment of a member who could speak within the SRA with knowledge of Wales and Welsh interests it was not appropriate for that person to be appointed as a representative by the National Assembly.

  244. Does that mean that we could end up with out having nobody from Wales on the SRA board?
  (Mr Coulshed) I would have to check the statute to be quite sure. My understanding is that the Secretary of State is obliged to appoint somebody having consulted the National Assembly and with particular regard to somebody who can speak for and about the interests of Wales. I do not know what the implications of that are in terms of where they come from[2].

  245. Can I just clarify, are we talking about the Secretary of State for Wales now?
  (Mr Coulshed) Secretaries of State collectively. Appointments are made in the primary instance by my Secretary of State, yes, that is right.

  246. I appreciate you are going to look into this, from your answer it does seem that the current SRA board member happens to come from Wales, but I press you again, there could be a situation where there would be nobody from Wales and it is a huge geographical area with identified problems.
  (Mr Coulshed) I am not sure whether they are obliged to come from Wales, there has to be somebody on the board of the SRA who can speak with knowledge of the interests of Wales.

Dr Francis

  247. The National Assembly has called for a strong voice in the new body which succeeds Railtrack, how will Wales be represented on that new body?
  (Mr Coulshed) This is still very much work-in-progress, indeed there is still an awful lot more work to do. I imagine what you are thinking about is the Secretary of State's notion of a company limited by guarantee. The way that proposal currently stands is that there would be a membership of stakeholders broadly cast whose membership could conceivably include people from Wales or Scotland or from any other stakeholder group. This is all still very much work-in-progress and I am not sure it is very helpful to speculate about it at the moment.

  248. Where is that work in progress?
  (Mr Coulshed) It is being led by a team at the department.

  249. In the spirit of equal partnership do you think that that work-in-progress should include the National Assembly?
  (Mr Coulshed) I cannot answer the question. I do not know it is working, but I am sure the National Assembly will be consulted

  250. Presumably the Secretary of State for Wales as well?
  (Mr Coulshed) I am sure that is so.

Mr Caton

  251. On the structure of the railways, it has been suggested that Scot Rail might operate a virtually integrated company, both manning the infrastructure and operating the trains in Scotland, (1) do you think that is a viable model for Scotland and (2) do you think it is a viable model for Wales?
  (Mr Coulshed) It has been suggested. I am not sure it has ever been suggested by the government. I think you heard from your previous witnesses that what sounds like a simple proposition quickly breaks down into a lot of rather difficult questions. Your previous witnesses were saying they would be interested in taking over the operation but not maintenance. There are other people who would say that that does not really address the problem, because the problem is integration of the maintenance operation with the operation of the trains. There are others who might say that the operational side must be kept separate from individual operators because there is more than one operator using most pieces of track and it is necessary for there to be fairness, which means that the operators of the trains should not be responsible for operating pieces of track. These are illustrations of the kind of issues that arise, it is not currently government policy to move towards a vertical integration of any one of those models, we are talking about one of the things that will have to be thought about further. To answer the question about Scotland and Wales, I think we come back to the geography again. The reason why people often do quote Scotland as a potential example, where vertical integration might be tried, is because the network is fairly geographically distinct. It is not quite so true for Wales, of course the point about the borders matters less in this particular context, nonetheless there are two or three main lines running east to west within Wales and a linkage on the east side, as you know no doubt better than I do. It is not quite so obvious, that that is exactly the right layout, if you like, for a vertical integration trial, should one be taken.

  252. The preferred successor to Railtrack now seems to be a not-for-profit company, something along the lines of the company that has taken over responsibility for water provision in Wales. Certainly, this is in the realms of rumour, I have to admit, my understanding was that DETR were not very enthusiastic about the glass company approach when that option was being put forward for water, why now is your Government department so enthusiastic for this type of company? What do you see as its advantages? Do you see a possible devolved structure within it?
  (Mr Coulshed) You are trespassing into territory which I do not think any of us is really able to speak with any knowledge about. What I will say is there are no simple answers to the issue of the post Railtrack structure. All of the models that people suggest come with a range of advantages and disadvantages and further work clearly needs to be done to settle on the model and the details within the model, which are very important, which produces the best set of advantages and the most manageable set of disadvantages.

  253. Can you give us an idea of what you see as the advantages and disadvantages of a not-for-profit company?
  (Mr Coulshed) I do not think I can. We will have to give you some written advice on this, this is not something within our expertise[3].

Mrs Williams

  254. Can I turn to the memorandum and bring your attention to 4 g), the question of why are taxi company telephone numbers not provided. In your answer you mentioned Train Taxi Limited, I wonder does that apply to England only or if not could you give us some information about the Wales situation?
  (Ms Phillips) Yes. I am just trying to think. I am sorry, I can see the book, the train taxi book, I have it, but I cannot remember whether it is England only or England and Wales. We will let you know[4].

  255. In North Wales I am not aware this service exists.
  (Ms Phillips) I will look at it. To describe it briefly to the Committee, it is a book which lists all of the railway stations and gives taxi numbers that are accessible from those stations. I will look to see whether it applies to Wales.

  256. If we are talking about an integrated system taxis feature?
  (Ms Phillips) Absolutely, very much so. We have very close working relationships with the Assembly on the question of Transport Direct, which is the information system that we are hoping to build on integrated transport. This train taxi system is one of the building blocks of that. I will check and see whether it does include Wales, if it does not it would be something that the Assembly could take forward or we can help them to take forward.

  257. Can I turn our attention to franchising now and ask you what would be the benefit of the creation of new Wales and Borders franchise? As a second question to that, could you tell us what has been the reason for a delay in setting up the franchise?
  (Mr Coulshed) The franchise has not been delayed for any reason particularly to do with it, if I can put it like that. The SRA started work on Wales and Borders about the beginning of this year, or perhaps a little sooner, and it got to the stage of inviting initial proposals, it drew up a short list. Round that time difficulties started to emerge with other franchises, in particular you are, no doubt, aware of the delay there was over the East Coast franchise. What we were discovering as that process was going on was there were a lot of unanswered questions about the cost of rail infrastructure improvements which were associated in some cases with franchising proposals. In addition we were becoming increasingly aware, again from franchising processes that had preceded Wales and Borders, of difficulties that were emerging as a result of the SRAs very open-ended process, where bidders, as you heard earlier, were given, more or less, a blank sheet of paper and asked to come forward with their own best ideas of how new franchises should be shaped. All this came together over the first half of the year and during that time it really was not very sensible for the SRA to make further progress with Wales and Borders or indeed a number of other franchises until the position became clearer. Subsequent to that, as you will have seen, the department issued a draft set of directions and guidance to the Strategic Rail Authority and also a draft policy statement which, taken together, tried a reshaping of the franchising process. Once they are settled and when the SRA strategic plan comes out in the next few weeks that will be a sign for the process on Wales and Borders and on a number of other franchises to be started.

  258. What do you think the benefits will be?
  (Mr Coulshed) I think this is a question better addressed to the SRA than to us, because a lot of the benefits from particular aspects of franchises are to do with operational and service provision, and that is an area they are more expert in than we are. Certainly when the original proposition for Wales and the borders was put forward by the SRA back at the beginning of the year those were the benefits they were speaking of, that it would be possible within such a franchise to provide a better service to passengers on railways in Wales and in a railway terms a more integrated service.

  259. That is rather an open reply.
  (Mr Coulshed) It is more open given where we currently stand in the process.

2   See supplementary note on page 60. Back

3   See page 60. Back

4   Train Taxi Limited covers all stations in Great Britain. Back

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