Former chancellor wants McLoughlin to reconsider policy

Former chancellor Alistair Darling has urged the government to reconsider its policy of introducing longer contracts to train operating companies in the wake of the collapse of the West Coast franchise competition.

Darling, who was secretary of state for transport between May 2002 and May 2006, raised the issue in parliament on Monday in a question to the current transport secretary, Patrick McLoughlin. McLoughlin had just updated the House on the inquiry into the West Coast franchise competition by Centrica chief executive Sam Laidlaw (see page 3).

Darling asked whether Laidlaw had considered the implications of the decision to make InterCity West Coast a 13-year franchise?

“He will know that when I had his job I reduced the franchises to seven years, because after that time trying to speculate on the state of the economy, and therefore on what fare revenue is, becomes increasingly difficult, if not impossible,” said Darling.

“The problem is that the further out we go, the greater the probability is that the risk will fall back on the government.”

He concluded: “Does not that policy decision, taken, I think, by some of his predecessors, need to be reconsidered if we are not to repeat some of the procedural problems that he has outlined today?”

Responding, McLoughlin said: “He makes an interesting point … I think that that is something that Richard Brown, the chairman of Eurostar, will be considering in his report, which I expect to see before the end of the year”.

Before the latest general election, all three main political parties pledged to introduce longer franchises.


This article appears in the latest issue of Passenger Transport. Click here to subscribe.