Six years of rail reform have achieved little, British MPs say

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The UK government has “achieved little” during six years of rail reform efforts, the parliamentary spending watchdog said, concluding that “no-one is putting the needs of passengers and taxpayers first.” Top”.

The House of Commons cross-party public accounts committee found that repeated promises of a “root and branch” overhaul of the railway system has been hampered by legislative delays and disagreements between government agencies.

MPs also said they have yet to see any evidence that plans for Great British Railways, a new public body to oversee services and infrastructure, will actually differ from promises previous reforms in the past 20 years.

“Meanwhile, no one is putting the needs of passengers and taxpayers first,” said the committee report into the ruling Conservative government’s rail program released on Monday.

“Even though the department [for transport] claims that improving passenger experience is central to its reform plans, yet poor performance persists across the rail network,” it said.

The Commission is starting to consider long-promised plans to reform the UK’s rail network, initially prompted by its collapse in 2018 due to the implementation of mixed timetables. chaos.

The resulting “Williams Rail Review” led to a government white paper in 2021, which outlined plans for the GBR.

That new body will oversee the highly complex sector, whose responsibilities are currently divided between different public and private agencies, as well as between the Department for Transport and the Treasury at government level.

But the GBR is still not fully established after the legislation was rolled back following a change of prime minister in autumn 2022, meaning associated cost savings of £1.5 billion a year were also delayed.

“It has been six years since the Ministry identified the need for a complete review of the rail sector, but this time they have achieved little,” the committee said.

However, the report said legislative delays were only part of the reason, noting that “from the outset” the Treasury and DfT disagreed on the GBR’s intended level of responsibility, including who will set ticket prices in the future.

It also found that changes to the state’s funding model for rail, introduced during the Covid-19 pandemic, had resulted in the two ministries having different priorities.

The report said that while the DfT is aware it needs to “increase revenue and reduce costs”, its focus is on managing costs, while revenue currently goes straight to the Treasury, along with risk of any shortage.

“This means that the department, training operators and HM Treasury have different priorities when making decisions affecting revenue and the current structure does not create the right incentives to deliver best value for money for taxpayers,” it said.

The report noted that 13.7% of trains were delayed in 2022-23 and 3.8% were cancelled.

The DfT declined to comment due to political constraints during the general election campaign.

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