Sunday, 12 June 2011

Letter from Theresa Villiers to Rehman Chisthi MP about Southeastern performances.

As many of you shall know, at the beginning of the year I wrote a letter to my local MP Mr Rehman Chisthi about the abysmal service.

Well, and I apologise for the slow write up, in a letter dated 23rd March 2011, Ms Villiers responded to Mr Chishti and myself with this letter.

Dear Rehman

Thank you for your letter of 7 February concerning a complaint from your constituent Mr Chris Sams of XXX Sturdee Avenue, Gillingham, Kent about Souteastern's rail franchise. I am responding as the minister responisble for rail.

I fully appreciate the concerns of your constituent regarding the quality of service and fare levels on Southeastern.

Southeastern Performance levels

I recently met with senior representatives of the rail industry to assess the performance of the railways during November and December. I emphasised to Network Rail how important it is for them to improve the performance of the rail infrastructure used by the Southeastern franchise.

As a result, the rail industry's National Task Force have been reviewing operational performance by Southeastern and Network Rail.

When delays occur, it is important that those in charge of our railways and train services do the very best they can to minimise inconvenience for passengers, by keeping passengers properly informed.

The Office of Rail Regulation, the independent safety and economic regulator for Britain's railways is also undertaking a review of communications performance during the severe weather disruption. I hope you will reassure you that this is an issue which the Coalition takes very seriously.

Fare levels and investment supporting the Southeastern franchise

The RPI+3 formula was included in the Southeatern franchise when its terms were agreed by the last Government. The last government took this decision to reflect the substantial investment in the trains and infrastructure used by the franchise. Their aim was to ensure that there was a fairer contribution by fare payers towards the improvements that had been in the area in the period up to April 2006 when the franchise began.

The investment programme included more than £600 million in in new rolling stock in Kent '(i.e. 57 four-car Class 375 Electrostars and 36 ficve-car Class 376 Electrostars) and £93 million of investment in power supply, stations, depots and related infrastructure.

This taxpayer support was in addition to a subsidy to Southeastern which is expected to be £585 million over the eight years of the franchise.

Your constituent mentions the 12% increase in  a specific season ticket. The regulatory rules on fares permit train operators to increase some fares, by up to 5% above the cap so long as the average increase across a specified fares basket is no more than the general formula applicable to the franchise. Were the Government to remove that flexibility, this would involve an additional call on the taxpayer which would be very difficult to meet in the light of the Spending Review settlement and the pressing need to tackle the deficit we inherited from the last government.

I am sorry not to be able to promise fares reductions. However, our approach on fares has to reflect the gravity of the problems we face with the public finances. We need to balance the interests of both taxpayers and fare payers.

The deficit we have inherited from the last Government has meant we have had to make some very difficult choices. Without the move to RPI+3 as the general formula, we simply would not have been able to deliver vitally needed rail investment within the constraints of the Spending Review settlement.

However, we are committed to fairness on rail fares. That is one of the reasons why we believe it is imperative that the cost of running the railway comes down. As you know, Sir Roy McNulty is leading an independent study on how to do this and concluded that substantial savings could be made bringing the costs of the railways closer to the levels prevailing in some of our European neighbours.

The Department for transport is working closely with Sir Roy's team so we can be ready to act promptly on those of his recommendation which we believe will deliver the best result for taxpayers and fare payers.

Thank you for taking the time to write to me on behalf of your constituent in order to raise these important issues.



I was grateful that she took the time to respond to my query.

The only qualm I have with the response is that a chunk of our money has been awarded as bonus' to the Southeastern directors and some of the improvement money went on the Highspeed rail link to St Pancras. Don't get me wrong, I think a HS link is vital to the growth of the country but I also feel that we should get the standard domestic line that 90% of us travel on should be sorted out first.
As for fares, I think it is fair to say that we necessarily want fares to go down but at least stay at their level in line with pay freezes. After all some of us may find themselves priced out of work in three or four years as we will no longer be able to pay the exorbitant fare and find ourselves unemployed and possibly labelled as "undeserving poor" and "scroungers". I'm not sure the Government are looking at that as a possibility, or perhaps as it is only a minority it is not of consequence.
Why should I move my family to London or give up a perfectly good job to find one in Medway because of rising fares?

Anyway, there it is.

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