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17.01.13

DfT not ready to commit to franchise devolution

Rail minister Simon Burns has told RTM that while the devolution of franchising decisions and powers to regional authorities is “in principle a sensible idea” and a key recommendation of the Brown review, the DfT still has a lot more work to do before it will commit to it.

Although there was a somewhat underwhelmed reaction to the Brown report in some quarters as not being radical enough, one area where it received praise was in its recommendations on devolution.

Pteg, Railfuture and London TravelWatch were just some of the organisations whose reaction to the report focused on devolution.

But Burns told RTM during his visit to the site of Network Rail's new Rail Operating Centre and Workforce Development Centre in York on Wednesday: “What I can say is that in principle, Brown was very much in favour of devolution and in principle, we think it is a sensible idea.

“There is work going on in a number of parts of the country – including at TfL, and in the north of England – which are keen to be able to participate in and compete for franchises. We will consider in due course the recommendations of Brown; we will also consider any [devolution] proposals that are being put together, but it is far too premature at the moment to give a view as to what will happen. These things have got to be looked at and we are not going to rush into anything, because we’ve got to get it right.”

This was a notably less gung-ho position to that taken by his ministerial colleague Norman Baker at the ‘Devolving Rail to the Regions’ event held at Manchester Town Hall last summer (see below), who said: “The move towards devolution and localism is not a fad, not a sound bite or a headline. It is absolutely serious, and as far as I’m concerned, a one-way street.” 

There is a strong expectation that the Northern and Transpennine franchises will be merged, with significant control given to a consortium of northern PTEs with input from local authorities, and much behind-the-scenes work has been done developing a ‘Rail in the North Executive’.

While devolution has been on hold, the authorities have been pressing ahead on a broader Rail in the North strategy, covering far more issues than just franchising.

The West Midlands transport authority, Centro, has also expressed an interest in commissioning and managing its local rail services.

Pteg support unit director Jonathan Bray told RTM last month: “When we met the Secretary of State, he said nothing had changed in terms of the Government’s attitude to potential devolution…we’re still doing a lot of work on the technical and legal issues around devolution of the Northern and Transpennine routes as a combined franchise.”

For more coverage of Burns' visit to York and the site of the Rail Operating Centre and Workforce Development Centre, and his opening of the new turntable, click here.

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email us at opinion@railtechnologymagazine.com

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