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10.01.13

Brown calls for franchising programme to be restarted

The franchising system is “not broken”, the second major review of the DfT’s rail franchising programme suggests, but does need simplifying.

Richard Brown’s review has found that there is “no credible case” for major structural change, and calls for the process to be restarted as soon as possible. Brown highlighted improvements in punctuality, customer satisfaction and passenger numbers as evidence that the process was not fundamentally flawed, and simply in need of strengthening through a number of recommendations.

The review was launched in October, following the cancellation of the West Coast Main Line award to FirstGroup after serious errors emerged.

Brown recommends that the department must strengthen its capacity to manage future franchising programmes, by simplifying the bidding and evaluation process for each franchise and proposes plans for more English franchises to be devolved to relevant authorities.

The Government should also publish plans for the franchises which were put on hold last year: Essex Thameside, Great Western, Thameslink, Southern and Greater Northern, by February.

Additionally, the DfT should bring in senior commercially experienced people to manage the franchising process and ensure the programme is restarted at a sustainable pace, the report states.

The Government is expected to set out a new programme for future franchise competitions in the spring, alongside a further statement on franchising.

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Brown (pictured) said: “In carrying out this review I have come to the conclusion that the franchising system is not broken, but rather it has made a major contribution to Britain’s increasingly successful rail network. It is therefore essential for both passengers and the wider rail market that the franchising programme is restarted as soon as possible.

“To achieve this goal, my review has identified a series of practical proposals and recommendations which, if implemented, will result in a stronger and more effective approach to franchising. In addition, I have provided the department with three broad options for them to consider where a strengthened franchising organisation might be located. As set out in both my review and the Laidlaw Report, the department must look to strengthen its franchising capability as a top priority.

“Passengers cannot wait whilst theoretical discussions are held about the structure of railways. It is essential to get on with the franchising programme in order to maintain the momentum of investment in increasing capacity and improving services.”

Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin responded: “The review has confirmed that government’s approach to rail franchising system is still the best way to secure the rail services for tax payers and fare payers alike. It has identified a number of detailed improvements, which I will carefully consider before publishing a further statement regarding the Government’s franchising policy in the spring.

“Any delays to the franchising programme will not affect services for rail passengers and they will continue to receive the services they depend upon.”

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