Jack Brereton MP is the Conservative Member of Parliament for Stoke-on-Trent South and a member of the Transport Select Committee.
Yesterday morning, the Government launched a review of the rail industry.
After a summer of timetabling chaos, the collapse of the East Coast franchise and rising ticket prices, a review of the current franchise model is welcome and will help focus on getting private sector dynamism in our railway back on track.
But to focus solely on improvements to franchising would be a missed opportunity to think radically about widening open access in place of franchising. There are difficult and challenging questions to be asked, and any review should be prepared to ask them.
A quarter of a century has elapsed since the Conservatives won the 1992 election with a mandate to privatise our railway. And it should be remembered here that it was commercial investment in rail travel that restored it as a viable and dynamic competitor to the car – with the private sector delivering massive increases in passenger miles that had seemed utterly impossible under British Rail.
This was a complete turnaround. Many officials had previously believed that rail had had its day and had no part in our future transport network – a view they held because of the abject failure of railway nationalisation.
However, the private sector reforms introduced by the John Major government soon fell foul of the meddling governments of Blair and Brown, and we have yet to revive fully the dynamism that has been lost in the prescriptive nature of the current franchise model.
We travel further and more frequently for work than previous generations, journeys best suited to rail. Tourism, both for domestic and international visitors, is booming – again a great opportunity for rail. And our railway will play an increasingly important role in moving freight, including to and from our ports – a particularly important consideration for Global Britain.
Now is the time to be bold once again and restore competitive dynamism to the marketplace. It’s time for an overhaul. Reforms that will deliver the railway Britain deserves for generations to come. A system that will deliver for passengers, businesses, communities and taxpayers nationwide.
I welcome today’s launch, and I hope to see a root-and-branch review both of the way our railway works today, and how it should be reformed for a successful future as a dynamic, customer-focused, competitive industry.
Labour’s renationalisation proposals risk taking our railway backwards. Back to before the private sector, when we had one of the worst safety records in Europe, out-of-control running costs, and the detrimental Beeching cuts because politicians were mismanaging the system.
To go forward we need competition to unlock new technology, provide more customer-focused services, and reduce costs. The innovation required on rail to meet rapidly changing economic and social needs can only come from a properly functioning, competitive market, not the failed economics of nationalisation.
It’s time for honesty about the limitations of the current franchise model, and a full, independent look at promoting enterprise, competition and innovation in our railway and how it should be set up to deliver for everyone in Britain and for future generations to come. The country expects nothing less.