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Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Labour demand answers from Network Rail over when Ministers knew about rail upgrade delays

The BBC reported yesterday that despite new evidence that Network Rail discussed back in March 2015 the need for a joint decision to be taken with the Department for Transport on delaying key rail upgrades, the Government is still denying they were aware before the election and claim they were “kept in the dark”.

Lilian Greenwood MP, Labour’s Shadow Rail Minister, has now written to the Chief Executive of Network Rail, Mark Carne, demanding that he set the record straight on what Ministers were told and when. Letter to Mark Carne, Chief Executive of Network Rail is below:

Dear Mark,
I am writing to you as I believe that Network Rail has serious questions to answer over its involvement in the Transport Secretary’s decision, announced on 25 June 2015, to indefinitely “pause” the electrification of the Midland Main Line and the north TransPennine route.
As you will appreciate, there is strong public interest in establishing how this decision was reached and when exactly the various involved parties first became aware that key enhancement projects would be put on hold.
The Department for Transport has, so far, stated that it only became aware of Network Rail’s position after the election, and that the need to make a decision on cancelling, deferring or pausing some projects could not have been foreseen. Consequently, it is implied that Ministers were unaware of the possible cuts when they promised to deliver those electrification schemes during the election campaign.
It is therefore highly concerning to learn that, at a Board meeting on 19 March 2015, Network Rail’s Strategy Director said that he had recently met the Office of Rail and Road and officials from the Department for Transport, and that “decisions were due to be made regarding various key enhancement projects from June”.
At the same meeting, the Board agreed to review spending on maintenance works “no later than June 2015 to inform the enhancement discussions,” and also agreed to “the decisions required jointly with the [Department for Transport] re enhancement deferrals from June”.
Previously, at the Board Meeting on 25 November 2014, it was reported that a list was being compiled of “details of those items/projects that would be stopped or refused in order to live within the capital constraints” and that “there were concerns around affordability of the enhancements portfolio and its deliverability”. And during the Board Meeting on 23 February 2015, it was reported that “to date the business had … identified at a high level the impact of reducing activities, volumes and scope”.
In addition, I also took note of your comment on 26 June 2015 that: “We knew, already, very early on last year that certain aspects of the plan were going to be incredibly difficult to deliver. People knew perfectly well there were high levels of uncertainty about this, it was widely flagged at the time, and it would be not fair for people to forget that today.”
It is therefore clear from these documents, which are in the public domain, that by March 2015 at the latest Network Rail was intimately involved in preparing the 25 June 2015 announcement, and that you were personally aware of this work.

Since the reclassification of Network Rail as a public body, you have been the Government’s designated Group’s Accounting Officer, and in the statement of the Chief Executive’s responsibilities, it is made clear that: “As the Government appointed Accounting Officer, the Chief Executive is personally responsible to Parliament for Network Rail’s stewardship of public funds”.
I must protest in the strongest possible terms that it appears that Network Rail neither levelled with Parliament nor the public before or during the election period. This was despite the fact that delivery of those projects formed a key part of the Conservative Party’s manifesto, and also of the Chancellor’s promise that he would build a “Northern Powerhouse.”
I understand that during such a sensitive time in the electoral calendar the decision to disclose, or not to disclose, these deliberations was inherently political, and most properly taken by the Secretary of State. However, the Department for Transport’s statement of 26 June 2015 implied that the Secretary of State was unaware of Network Rail’s plan to defer major projects, even though a final decision of these plans was “required jointly with the DfT”. Consequently, the clear inference is that you failed to inform the Secretary of State of this work before the election.
There appears to be two possible explanations for what has happened. Therefore, I would ask that you set out whether you either:
  • Informed the Secretary of State, or his Ministers and officials, of the impending “enhancement deferrals” before the election campaign began, or;
  • Withheld this information from the Secretary of State and the Department for Transport.
I hope that you will use this opportunity to set the record straight.
Given the level of public interest in the issue, I am publishing this letter.
I look forward to receiving your reply.
Yours sincerely,

Lilian Greenwood MP
Shadow Rail Minister