Anne Main: Minister clueless on FCC commuter problems
4th February 2010
In the House of Commons yesterday, Anne Main led a debate highlighting the failings on First Capital Connect, and pressing the Government over their lack of assertive action to help reduce disruption on commuter services into London.
The Parliamentary debate, in which Anne grilled Rail Minister, Chris Mole MP, on why the Government had not acted more quickly to address the issues which called the disruption, comes ahead of a ‘Meet the Managers’ session, called by Anne, at St Albans City Station tomorrow, Friday 5th February, from 4pm – 7pm.
During the debate, Anne said:
“I want the Minister to explain to me and my constituents why he had no sense of urgency about the matter. What did the Secretary of State agree with First Capital Connect at the meeting he held in November? Why did he not anticipate that the work to rule would cause enormous disruption to the travelling public, and why did he not insist that the message was delivered to commuters, so that they did not labour on, completely in the dark about why train services were so disrupted? When the franchise was agreed with First Capital Connect, were the Ministers aware that FCC was reliant on such a business model? It appears that they were, according to my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond). Why did they agree to it?”
Upon leaving the chamber, Anne said: “It was an interesting debate, with many MPs coming along to speak about the chaos we have experienced on the Thameslink route over the past 100 days. It was a valuable opportunity to directly grill the Minister over the Department’s lack of urgency over this matter.
Most of those present shared my concerns about the Government’s approach to the problems, as they were clearly aware a long time ago of potential problems with ensuring a sufficient level of drivers would available to provide a full service. Indeed, it was revealed that the Government routinely grant franchises without ensuring full coverage of drivers to provide them.
I made it clear to the Government that action has to be taken to ensure that this sort of disruption never happens again. So far, Ministers have only offered bluster, noise and empty rhetoric. Whether or not this will see the stripping of the First Capital Connect franchise remains to be seen, but I do have strong concerns that where the East Coast franchise has been taken over by the Government, there has been a deterioration in service. This gives me concerns about whether this would be the best option for my commuters.
We must look for a way forward which maintains the highest possible level of service for commuters, and ensures there is no way this can happen again. This could be with another franchisee, or with First Capital Connect, but anyone who is to operate this franchise in future must demonstrate that they can produce an exemplary service.
The Minister failed to address many of the concerns I raised. In fact, I thought he seemed totally clueless. Other than ‘monitoring’ and ‘watching’, this Government has done little to bring this to a speedy conclusion, and yet they signed the franchise, allowing this patchy driver cover. He ducked the most important question, about when he became aware of the issue, and why he didn’t do anything sooner. I will be writing to him with a series of detailed questions to try to get to the bottom of this matter.
Following the debate, I met immediately with Larry Heyman, of First Capital Connect, and drew his attention to the comments of my constituents and the Minister about the compensation on offer. I urged him to take on board the dissatisfaction of passengers over the package, and to come up with an improved deal.”