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6 Dec 2007 : Column 1074

I am not sure that I will be able to address all the many important issues that my right hon. Friend raised. I will do my best in the time allotted to me, but if I am not able to cover them or she wishes to raise any other issue, I will be happy to meet her at a time convenient to both of us.

My right hon. Friend mentioned the doubling of track on part of the Lea valley line. She will know that consideration has already been given to doubling part of the track to provide additional capacity in relation to the extension of Stansted airport. Funding decisions for that work will have to await the outcome of the British Airports Authority inquiry into airport expansion, which will not happen until 2008.

My right hon. Friend also mentioned franchise payments, an issue that she and I have discussed elsewhere. I do not accept the argument that a particular train operating company’s performance should be judged according to the level of subsidy that it receives. There are many freight train operating companies that pay premiums rather than receive public subsidy, and there should be no difference in the level of service that those companies provide compared to those companies that receive a public subsidy. As it happens, One is committed to paying a premium over the length of its franchise. There are particular and anomalous reasons why it was given a subsidy of £2.9 million in the year that she mentions, the details of which I shall not go into tonight. It is an area for more discussion between us.

In addition, my right hon. Friend talked about rolling stock allocation and made a powerful argument for new rolling stock on her lines. It is not appropriate for Ministers or civil servants at the Department for Transport to decide on every occasion which part of the new rolling stock procurement—which is being procured through the high-level output specification—should be allocated to which line. Those are decisions best taken by the TOCs themselves, and the rolling stock plan will be published in January in consultation with the train industry. The plan will give more detail about the allocation of the new rolling stock.

My right hon. Friend talked about the problem of late trains not stopping at, and therefore not serving, stations in her constituency. TOCs have targets and are incentivised not to miss out particular stations. Such a service counts against the efficiency targets of the TOCs. I am happy to discuss that point further with her and with the managing directors of the companies that she mentioned.

My right hon. Friend also talked about the importance of access to train stations, and that is crucial. She will know that the Government have launched an access for all strategy, which will make available £370 million in funding over 10 years to provide access arrangements for people who are incapacitated in some way. So far, 92 stations in England have been identified to receive part of that money and another tranche will be announced this month. I expect that right my right hon. Friend would welcome the inclusion of any of her stations in that. The method for identifying stations to receive access for all funding is based on the incidence of disability as identified in the 2001 census, weighted according to footfall. We try to ensure that we attend to the stations that most need that money.

In terms of ticket offices, my right hon. Friend will be interested to learn that we have not had any request from First Capital Connect or One to reduce the
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number of hours that ticket offices remain open. It is a condition of the franchise agreement that requests for reducing the hours of ticket offices come to the Secretary of State.

The First Capital Connect franchise commenced on 1 April 2006, bringing together the former Thameslink and Great Northern franchises. The franchise has a maximum length of nine years, but there are two points during the franchise term which could result in the franchise ending at an earlier point. I am aware that my right hon. Friend’s constituency is served by First Capital Connect Great Northern services on the Hertford loop from Moorgate.

Performance on First Capital Connect has improved consistently since the company started operation and the franchise has also delivered all its commitments up to this point. The latest period for which complete performance data are available shows that First Capital Connect achieved a public performance measure—the industry standard measure—of a moving annual average of trains arriving on time of 88.69 per cent. That represents a 1.78 per cent. improvement on the joint performance improvement plan target agreed with Network Rail for the period. Overall in the year to date, First Capital Connect’s public performance measure, or PPM, for the moving annual average is 0.77 per cent. better than the joint performance improvement plan.

I would add that the previous eight weeks are traditionally difficult for the rail network because of leaf fall and the effect of leaves on the line, which causes a drop in performance throughout the country. In the railway period from 19 August to 15 September this year, First Capital Connect delivered 96.04 per cent. PPM on the Great Northern route, which represents the best PPM figure for the route since franchising began in the early 1990s.

First Capital Connect’s delay minute moving annual average has reduced from 11,344 delay minutes per period when the franchise started to 9,717 delay minutes. In addition, in 2007 First Capital Connect has delivered a 15 per cent. reduction in fleet failures and a 40 per cent. improvement in cancellations compared with 2006. The franchise agreement requires First Capital Connect to meet three performance benchmarks: cancellations, capacity and delay minutes. The train operating company has complied with all those in each railway period since the franchise began.

As required in the franchise agreement, First Capital Connect has invested heavily since April 2006 to improve customer service, security and station quality. The Department for Transport has ensured that First
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Capital Connect has fulfilled its obligation to invest £16.1 million in the first year of its franchise. That includes £2.8 million on improving the quality of stations by refurbishing waiting rooms and toilets, installing new waiting shelters and repainting many of the stations that it operates.

I am aware that Enfield, North is also served by the One franchise. The franchise finishes on 31 March 2011. There is a continuation review period that runs from November 2008 to November 2009. If One meets its performance targets during that period, the franchise is automatically extended to 31 March 2014. Performance on the franchise has improved since the franchise commenced and all franchise commitments have been delivered to date.

I know that my right hon. Friend wanted me to address other issues and I apologise that, in the time left, I will not be able to cover them all. As I said at the beginning, I am more than happy to meet her to discuss some of the outstanding issues. Rail travel in the south-east is in a healthy state. There continues to be strong demand for travel in the region, much of it focused on movements to and from London, although increasingly the market is growing in urban areas away from the capital. As demand increases, capacity provision becomes a greater challenge. The Government are addressing that challenge by means of the policies I have outlined here and that were outlined when we published our high level output specification in July of this year. There has already been significant investment in new rolling stock and refurbishment programmes designed to provide a more appropriate environment for London commuters to travel to work.

The Department for Transport remains committed to providing additional capacity, and supports the delivery of innovative and pragmatic solutions to address the issue. The off-peak business and leisure markets represent a huge opportunity for the railway to increase its market share, and this is promoted further by the congestion difficulties faced by road users in the region. As we have demonstrated through recent franchise awards, the franchise replacement process provides a good opportunity to bring about improvements to capacity and service provision and to ensure that the taxpayer receives good value for money.

Having said all that, I take right my right hon. Friend’s criticisms on board. The issues that she raised are extremely important to her and to her constituents. Ministers must never forget that the whole point of providing a railway service is not for politicians, or the media, but for passengers.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at half-past Six o’clock.

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