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21 May 2008 : Column 135WH—continued

The Government and the Department have no vested interest in standing in the way of such schemes. It is
21 May 2008 : Column 136WH
only right and just that we point out that if public money is to be called on to sustain new services on a new line, we have the right and the duty to say that it can be spent only if it will actually produce value for money.

The hon. Gentleman made some points about Northern Rail. He is right, of course: the Department does not claim to be a hidden hand in the railway industry. I am careful to point out that the Department does not write timetables, although we are often accused of doing so, and that we certainly do not specify what type of rolling stock individual franchises must use, except in very unusual circumstances where there is a changeover of franchise, but that, nevertheless, there is a role for it in the management of franchises. The Department has officials whose responsibility is the oversight of individual franchises. That is necessary, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not criticise it. Given the levels of public money involved in the franchises, it would be odd not to have that oversight.

However, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that, aside from the fact that Northern Rail receives £1 million of subsidy every day of the year and therefore is the recipient of the largest amount of subsidy of any of the rail franchises, it is also due to receive 182 new carriages from the high level output specification commitment. I would be interested to know how he divined the information that there was an intention to offer new carriages to Northern Rail but that subsequently a decision was make to revoke the offer, because my understanding is that Northern Rail actually does particularly well in terms of the number of carriages going to it. As far as I can remember, and off the top of my head, it certainly does better than the majority of the franchises, as it is one of the largest in terms of train movements.

Dr. Pugh: I thank the Minister for that information. In fact, my informant, who fairly clearly worked out the figures, is the supplier of the carriages. However, to revert to a previous point the Minister made, I believe that everybody, anoraks included, accepts that a business case must be made. However, looking in from the outside, there is a sort of opaqueness as to what a business case sometimes needs to look like to satisfy the Department. One gets the sense from time to time—perhaps it is wrong—that the goalposts move, and that the hurdles that any scheme, even those not requiring subsidy, needs to get over are significantly higher every time it looks as though something might be done.

Mr. Harris: That is a valid point. I know that there is a lack of clarity, and a lack of confidence among many sponsoring authorities about what they actually need to produce in a business case. Let me make this offer: officials in the Department are willing to offer advice to any sponsors who need essential information about what needs to be included in a business case.

I reject the accusation that we have not grown the railway. More people are using the railway today than at any point in the history of the railway, outside wartime. That is a huge achievement of this Government—

It being Five o’clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the sitting lapsed, without Question put.

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