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Mr. Collins: But none of that, unfortunately, alters the fact that in many important respects the transport system of the United Kingdom is going backwards, rather than forwards. Things are getting worse, rather than better. In recent weeks there have been announcements of cuts in train services. The Secretary of State frequently quotes the figure of only 180 out of 18,000 services, so it will be helpful to hon. Members in all parts of the House if he can confirm in his remarks that that is the entirety of the cuts in train services that he anticipates will be announced in the coming months, as part of the efforts to improve the operation of the train timetable.
Mr. Collins: I will, if the hon. Lady will let me finish the point. I hope that she would agree that it is important that we should know whether that was a one-off reduction in train services, or whether more cuts are likely to be announced in the coming months and years.
Mrs. Ellman: The hon. Gentleman recognises the faults of the past. Does he accept his party's responsibility in creating Railtrack, which led to more than £200 million being paid in compensation to Virgin, because Railtrack failed to modernise the west coast main line, resulting in the fact that many services could not be run efficiently? Indeed, I believe the compensation figure may be more than £300 million.
Network Rail is spectacularly over budget and I will deal with that in greater detail in a moment. It is consuming huge sums of public money on a scale not even dreamt of by Railtrack, and as was established at Prime Minister's questions, the best the Government can tell us is that having spent all those tens of billions of pounds of public money, if we are lucky, by 2010 we might get back to the levels of train performance that Railtrack was delivering in 2000.
I was listing some examples of the significant backward steps that have been taken in recent weeks and months in relation to our rail industry. Not only have there been reductions in train services after years when, post-privatisation, there had been a substantial increase in train services, but there was the extraordinary saga of what happened to rail freight grants. That is admirably summarised in the report prepared by the Institution of Civil Engineers, which stated in a document published yesterday:
The BBC has revealed that future orders for rolling stock in the coming eight years will be just 10 per cent. of the orders for rolling stock over the past eight years. At a time when more and more trains are running late, train services are being reduced and rolling stock orders are being cut, we are told by the Secretary of State that train fares are to rise faster than inflation, rather than according to the funding formula that the Government inherited from the last Conservative Government whereby train fares would increase by less than the rate of inflation. Under the Conservatives we had more trains, newer trains and better services, paid for by fares coming down in real terms; under the Labour Government we have fewer trains, older trains and later trains, paid for by fares going up in real terms.
Mr. Stringer: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that part of the reason why there are delays on the railways is the state of the rails themselves and the backlog of maintenance? While my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister acknowledged this lunchtime that there had been 30 years of under-maintenance, is the hon. Gentleman aware that in the year before privatisation, 1995, and the year after, 1996, track replacement was only at a fifth of the 1975 level? For 10 years prior to 2000, track replacement was less than half the previous rate. Is that not the reason why trains are running late now
Mr. Collins: The problem for the hon. Gentleman is that after three years of Labour Government, 90 per cent. of trains were running on time, and after six years only 80 per cent are running on time, but the Government are saying that the best that they can hope to do is to get back by 2010 to the levels that they inherited from the previous Conservative Government. He may believe that that is progress, but I do not think most passengers or taxpayers will. It is extraordinary that, as we established in Prime Minister's questions, punctuality levels that this Government's own Deputy Prime Minister said were a national disgrace can be reached again only after spending £58 billion and a decade, while in all the interim, things will be worse than when they were at the level that he described as such.
Does the Secretary of State believe that that prediction, which was made by Network Rail this week, is (a) plausible and (b) acceptable? If he does not regard it as acceptable, what does he propose to do about it? Furthermore, does he have a viewhe should have one, as he has gone on record as saying that Network Rail is now in the public sectoron the issuing of bonus payments to Network Rail senior management? Does he not think that it is a little unusual that such payments will be triggered not if management get train punctuality back to the 90 per cent. that this Government inherited or the 84 per cent. that was Network Rail's target at the start of this year, but if they get it back to 82 per cent.a level that is substantially worse than that inherited both from the last Conservative Government and Railtrack? Does he have a view on that?
Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): Is my hon. Friend aware that, in the west country, the Great Western main line upgrade, which was in the SRA's 10-year plan, has been ditched and will not even start until after 2010? In some parts of the country, this is not a case of waiting until 2010 for everything to happen, as nothing will happen even in terms of starting the whole new programme?
Mr. Collins: My hon. Friend is entirely right. The Government are spending more and more public money, but delivering less and less for it. Her constituents are among the many who are suffering as a result.
Mr. Collins: Again, the problem for the hon. Gentleman is this. If the situation was a shambles at that time, given that his Government have had six years in office, how come that on the basis of all the indicators, things are worse now? That is the question that he and his hon. Friends simply cannot answer.
I want to be fair to the Secretary of State in one respect, as the Government have set a clear target for Network Rail that has been met: they have said that it must be not-for-profit company. I must tell him that there is no danger of its coming up with a profit at the moment. There is no danger of that target not being met. Network Rail is losing £290 million on its own figures, which is the equivalent of £2 billion a yearthe amount that would be lost if it accounted for its assets in the same way as Railtrack. I should have thought that that was not a huge achievement, as it involves losing public money hand over fist for years to come, but that was the target for Network Rail and I suppose that it has managed to keep to it.
I dare say the Secretary of State will again cite, as he often does, the fact that, under his watch, he is "investing" £73 million a week in the rail system. He is certainly spending that amount, but with costs increasing, exploding levels of waste and rapid reductions in value for money, surely he should be ashamed of the fact that he is spending so much for so little return, not proud of it.