The chair of the Transport Committee of MPs has criticised the Government for its management of the failing Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) franchise and for not making performance and benchmarking information available to the committee.
At a hearing on Monday (5 September) as part of the committee’s inquiry into rail franchising, Louise Ellman MP asked witnesses whether the size of the GTR franchise was behind problems on Southern Railway.
Committee chair Louise Ellman
Joanna Whittington, chief executive of regulator the Office of Rail and Road, told MPs that the ‘very poor’ performance of Southern and the size of the GTR franchise meant that it was dragging down the performance of the industry across England and Wales against the key public performance measure (PPM).
She added that the PPM has fallen during the current year but if GTR were excluded ‘the numbers go up’.
However, Ms Whittington said it was the responsibility of the Department for Transport (DfT) to manage and enforce franchise.
MPs also expressed frustration with the DfT for not providing the committee with information it had requested and suggested that this was because the DfT, rather than the regulator, was responsible for managing the franchise.
Ms Ellman said: ‘This committee is having difficulty securing proper information on contractual benchmarks compared with performance and we will persist and we will eventually get that information. But that shouldn’t be such a problem, should it?’
Ms Whittington said in reply that it was a matter for the DfT what information it put into the public domain but that as a regulator she could see the benefits of published information in providing a reputational incentive for train operators. ‘I agree,’ she told Ms Ellman.
Dr Andrea Coscelli, acting chief executive of the Competition and Markets Authority, agreed with Ms Whittington that accountability for managing franchising ‘sits fairly clearly with the Department for Transport’.
Ms Ellman replied: ‘I’m not satisfied with the way they are exercising that responsibility.’
Earlier on Monday, the Association of British Commuters launched a crowdfunding appeal for funds to back a legal challenge over ministers’ handling of Southern Rail.
Dr Coscelli also told MPs that the current franchising framework was ‘quite a successful programme’ and that a lot of the current system should be retained.