Monday, 29 January 2007

Won't the real villain please stand up...

Last week saw the First Great Western franchise debated by Members of Parliament.

Naturally, MPs of all parties used the opportunity to pass judgement on First Great Western with many strongly criticising the company for its recent performance. Unfortunately, as is so typical of today’s inept political class, the large majority of those who spoke failed to grasp the fact that the problems with the Greater Western franchise have, primarily, been caused by political factors outside of FGW’s control. In other words: they failed to hold the government to account for its incompetence and bungling in setting the terms for the new franchise.

Towards the end of the debate, however, a rare chink of common sense managed to shine through. It came from Stephen Hammond – the Conservative Shadow Minister for Transport – who made one of the most insightful contributions. He said:

“...the problems are due principally to the Department for Transport and the prescribed franchise that it imposed on First Group. Some understanding of whom should be mentioned in the blame game is important for understanding the problems not only on this part of the network, but on the network as a whole.

It is true that the Government specified the First Group timetable that has reduced services and led to carriages being withdrawn, and that they extracted the premium from First Group that has forced fare increases. I am sure that the Minister will denounce rail privatisation, forgetting that his party has been in charge of the railways for 10 years and that usage has increased. He will remind us that he has had his brief for only four months and that the franchise re-letting took place before that.

I have had the pleasure of sparring with the Minister on transport issues since he has come to the Front Bench and I know him to be one of the good guys. However, he is a representative of the Government, who cannot escape our criticism and questioning. Our debate has proved that the villains of the piece are not only First Group, but the Government.”

And there it is in a nutshell. Thank goodness someone in the political establishment actually gets it!

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