DfT franchising director Peter Wilkinson stands by franchise consultation. ‘We asked tough questions and yes they will get some people angry,’ he says



The Department for Transport has pledged that it will design the next Northern Rail franchise around the responses to its contentious consultation which included suggestions for ‘trade-offs’ to help modernise the business and fund a new train fleet.

The DfT’s request for views on whether fare rises and service cuts should be used to provide investment funding angered many local authorities in the north who responded by suggesting the department should have placed greater emphasis on raising revenue by increasing train frequencies.

Many insisted fare rises to pay for new trains would be resisted until the Pacer fleet has been replaced. A number suggested the DfT had failed to grasp the importance of the franchise to local economies and the impact fare rises and service reductions would have.

However, DfT franchising director Peter Wilkinson said that he was pleased by the angry reaction and the passions provoked because they provided the basis on which he could specify the new franchise.

“We asked tough questions and yes they will get some people angry and I want them to get angry,” Wilkinson told delegates at the UK Rail Industry Forum conference. “If you want to send me 10,000 postcards saying this is all wrong, that is exactly what I’m looking for. I want to know what you think because I don’t have a blueprint in my drawer. I will design the franchise around what you tell us. So if you’re absolutely committed to protecting services please tell me because we are not entirely sure.”

Wilkinson said the exercise represented a clear change from previous “nice quiet consultations” which he characterised as offering little in the way of genuinely inviting opinions on crucial issues. He added that this consultation was designed to solicit a response, tackle some difficult issues head-on, and demonstrated commitment to clarifying local priorities. He insisted that the DfT would prove it had listened to feedback and taken advice. However, he pointed out that the franchise’s high subsidy levels and investment requirements meant compromises needed to be explored.

“What we did I absolutely stand by,” Wilkinson said. “We asked honest questions.

“A third of Britain’s entire rail subsidy goes to the Northern franchise and there are huge disparities in average fares in that market. We know we have got to rejuvenate that railway, it is largely Victorian and the rolling stock is absolutely awful. But I have only two levers to pull. One is subsidy, the other fares. So I have to ask questions about the kind of trade-offs that could be made to make this a better railway.”


This article appears inside the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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