Working hard for you
Alison Seabeck MP has written to Ministers highlighting concerns over the 'judging' criteria which will be used for the Greater Western Franchise.
The text of her letter is set out below:-
I am writing in advance of making a formal response to the consultation for the Greater Western Franchise to clarify one or two points and ask you to consider some additional points to those which you heard raised during the Westminster Hall debate on this subject as well as those which you yourself have highlighted.
I cannot stress the importance to the wider economy of getting this franchise ‘right’ this time round. You are very clearly aware of the importance of this as indicated by your comment, ‘that rail connectivity supports jobs and growth’. The document which has been published does set out in various places the value of good connectivity and the way in which various organisations including local authorities like mine in Plymouth, which has been taken such a pro active interest in this franchise process, as well as LEPs and other interested parties can feed in to emphasise exactly what the negatives and positives are from their perspective.
I would ask you though when looking at this in due course as you will, to consider very carefully that purely commercial decisions do not always reflect the economic benefits which need to be delivered through the variety of lines within the franchise area – the branch lines as well as the InterCity links.
There is though not a significant enough emphasis placed, in my mind in the document, on enabling the rebalancing of regional and sub regional economies. The consultation talks a great deal about improvements to Bristol and South Wales but says relatively little about Plymouth and the far South West and the London-Penzance main line. I can as a parallel remember when I was first elected reading an RDA report and finding virtually no reference at all to Plymouth which is the 15th largest City in England. I was shocked at the much higher profile offered to Exeter and Taunton. The RDA to their credit to my criticism, and the complaints of others on board, and took a long hard look at the wider region and began to realign their thinking.
If the objectives as set out in the consultation are those on which you will be judging the bids then can I suggest that there is a need for the above as an additional consideration. I am basing this on the views of local people with a strong interest in rail matters.
I am bringing this to your attention during the consultation period rather than at the end of that process as there will be little time to analyse responses at the end of March and include any changes in the ITT and its service specification. There will need to be associated changes to the ITT, its service specification and criteria used to judge the bids arising from this extra objective. I hope that this early notice allows you to adjust the parallel process of writing the ITT, its specification and bid judging criteria.
The only reference to how the bids will be judged is at page 9, “Importantly, it will set out the basis upon which the bids will be judged” and applies to the ITT. Clearly bidders will need to know this when they see the ITT and its service specification but there is no indication in the consultation document as to how bids will be judged. As DfT are being less prescriptive in specifying the service the basis for comparing bids could be complex. Bids could range from the minimum service level in the ITT and high premium to a much better service level including major infrastructure improvements but with a lower premium or small subsidy.
Failure to disclose this basis for selection in the consultation document is of great concern to me. The actual service delivered to stakeholders and passengers will be largely shaped by these selection criteria. Stakeholders will have no opportunity to comment on them and hence will have reduced influence over the rail service that they will have to accept for the next 15 years.
I am convening a further meeting of South West MPs to discuss the franchise and will in advance suggest that they express their concerns in advance in relation to the selection criteria. I hope that if colleagues write expressing similar concerns that you will take very seriously their comments and given their understanding of the south west economy consider adding the 7th objective which is for clarification
Recognise the importance of train services to the economy and well-being of the areas the franchise serves and that rail connectivity supports jobs and growth and engage with DBIS, LEPs LAs and local business groups to evaluate the wider economic benefits. The bid should protect not only key outcomes for passengers and the taxpayer but also the economy. Purely commercial decisions may not fully reflect the economic benefits and connectivity provided by these service and the department will give due weight to bids that maximise benefits to the wider economy.”
I look forward to your response
Member of Parliament for Plymouth Moor View