Thursday 20 May 2021 / 4:30 PM Jim McMahon

Labour calls for clarification after the publication of the Williams Review

Labour calls for clarification after the publication of the Williams Review


Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary Jim McMahon has written to Grant Shapps asking for clarification and further detail on 15 areas that remain outstanding after the publication of his 116 page report.


Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary, Jim McMahon MP, said:


“Whilst we welcome steps to increase public control and ownership over the railways, there remains many unanswered questions in today’s report.


“Despite two press releases in six hours, a morning media round and a statement to the house, the Transport Secretary still seems unable to explain how his flexible ticketing offer will actually deliver saving for passengers.


“Labour has long argued that public ownership of the rail network will provide better value for the taxpayer and for passengers, who deserve more than rhetoric from this Government.”



Notes to Editors


Full copy of the letter to the Transport Secretary


20th May 2021


Dear Grant,


I am writing to you regarding your Rail plan announced today, following our exchange in the Chamber earlier.


It is two-and-a-half years since the Williams review was first commissioned and whilst much has changed on the network during that time due to Covid, what was announced today is pretty much what was reported in the Telegraph in November of last year.


You’ve announced that both control of infrastructure and the contracting of train operations will be given to the arms-length government-owned body, with private firms bidding to run concessions.


Yet following your statement in the House earlier today, there remains a series of unanswered questions.


  1. The government hopes that the new Passenger Service Contracts will attract a much larger number of new entrants than the dwindling number of companies and overseas public railways who were left with franchises. Will the government allow failed suppliers such as Stagecoach or National Express to bid for these new contracts?


  1. Many of the failings you have pointed to, on passenger experience including reliability and cleanliness are issues on services provided by former franchise operators. What is the government doing to make sure bidders have a proven track record of high service standards, investment in customer experience and good employment practices, and how will Ministers ensure they aren’t rewarded if contracts fail?


  1. You were repeatedly asked by colleagues whether the Government allow a publicly-owned company to bid for these concessionary contracts, and we failed to receive a clear yes or no. Can you confirm that a publicly-owned provider – whether the operator of last resort or another new provider – will be able to bid for contracts?


  1. The passenger rail contracts have morphed from EMAs to ERMAs and are on their way to being National Rail Contracts. Why didn’t the government just hand these contracts over to a better resourced operator of last resort and bring the contracts in-house? Wouldn’t that have been easier?


  1. Can you explain what the point of owning groups is? Why is the government allowing these companies to extract management fees and profits while taking no risk?


  1. It’s been reported that the Treasury is understood to be demanding cost cuts of between 10% and 20%. Can he confirm this is not the case? Does he know how many jobs will be lost by a 10 or 20% reduction in total funding?


  1. What assessment has been made of the number of staff required to oversee a national system of rail concession contracts? Extending such as system across 15 operators could require potentially hundreds of extra staff. Is the Conservative Party creating a new rail bureaucracy while cutting thousands of jobs in Network Rail?


  1. Improvements for local stations have all too often been promised but never delivered by unrealistic franchise conditions. Will new public funds be made available for station improvements under the new body, or will existing renewal and enhancement budgets be expected to cover it? Will city regions have the power and funding to take control and improve local stations, as they do in London?


  1. Announcing last year’s above-inflation fare rises, you said you wanted “a clearer, more flexible and fairer fares system”. Yet beyond some new ticketing proposals, the huge, outdated, complex fares system has not been touched. Do you no longer feel fares reform is needed, or did you just lose the argument with the Chancellor?


  1. On any move which will see staff transferred, either from Network Rail or current train operations, what discussions have taken place with trade unions to ensure workings terms and conditions are protected?


  1. This report fundamentally fails to tackle one of biggest issues with our public transport system; that timetables for modes of transport just don’t join up. We need a bus and train system that genuinely connects people rather than leaves them standing around waiting for services. Will the Government work towards joining up different modes of transport?


  1. One of the reasons the franchise system failed were the rocketing costs of management consultancies and law firms brought in to navigate the system. Will the DfT and the new rail body be building its own capacity and capability to make these important procurement decisions in the public interest, or will Ministers still be relying on top-price consultants, often conflicted with bidders as clients, to make the decisions for them?


  1. On the current financial modelling how much has been assumed for operator profit over the life of the first wave concessions?


  1. The white paper asserts several times that the new model for national railways reflects the current model for Transport for London. Yet the government continues to undermine TfL with uncertain funding and politically-motivated punitive conditions. Is that the future Ministers intend for the national railway?


  1. The report indicates that “New open access services will also be explored where spare capacity exists.” Can you give more detail on how this will be ‘explored’, and if the intention to ensure that all routes are assumed to be brought in under concessions, including those currently run under open access agreements, such as Hull Trains and Grand Central, will have the benefit of revenue risk being underwritten by government?


Whilst I may feel there are holes in what has been announced, I do pay tribute to Keith Williams and all the civil servants in your department who have shown great professionalism and dedication at this difficult time to produce this report. We are calling for clear action in the spirit of constructive engagement.


Yours sincerely,