Latest Rail News

18.11.13

Rail franchising devolution ‘has stalled’

Devolution of rail franchising powers to the north of England has stalled in Whitehall, with concern growing that the DfT is to scrap the idea.

The FT has reported that council leaders from northern cities want an “urgent meeting” with transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin because the decision on devolving power has been put on hold.

Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes said: “Local authorities will be extremely annoyed and dismayed if we have spent two years working on a proposal that the government then pulls out from under our feet.”

He said it would be a “huge political climbdown”.

The plan has centred around merging the Northern and Transpennine franchises and handing the franchise process for the new, much larger route to a new executive formed of the region’s passenger transport executives and local authorities, known as Rail North.

Further devolution was a recommendation of the Brown review into franchising, and organisations backing it include Pteg, Railfuture and London TravelWatch. Former transport minister Simon Burns told RTM earlier this year: “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.”

Norman Baker, who has also recently left the DfT, was the biggest backer of devolution at ministerial level, having said: “The move towards devolution and localism is not a fad, not a soundbite or a headline. It is absolutely serious, and as far as I’m concerned, a one-way street.”

Siemens Rail System UK boss Steve Scrimshaw, responding to a question from RTM, said last month that the Northern and Transpennine franchises should not be merged.

A government official told the FT that devolution was “in the balance”.

More views on devolution, and the bodies who have proposed taking over control from the DfT, can be found in the government’s consultation here.

A spokesman for Transport for Greater Manchester, one of the key organisations in the new Rail North body, told RTM: “Rail North is in continuing discussions with government on the rail devolution proposals.”

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