Northern Rail chaos: PM 'will always consider' bids to give local transport bosses more powers

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The Prime Minister has left the door open for northern leaders to have more control over the region's rail infrastructure after her spokesman said she would "always consider" any bid by Transport for the North for more powers.

Theresa May's spokesman said Downing Street would look at any proposal that comes forward after being pressed on the issue of the Northern Rail timetable chaos at Prime Minister's Questions today.

Earlier this week a high-profile group of senior business and civic leaders called for Transport for the North (TfN), which manages northern rail franchises through its Rail North Partnership, to be given full powers to manage all northern infrastructure.

The strategic transport body has not made any request for new powers, though an independent review into the Northern fiasco is to be carried out by Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake which could lead to local leaders getting more powers to hold the industry to account.

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John Cridland, TfN's chairman, told The Yorkshire Post that in the run-up to the botched introduction of Northern timetables on May 20, the rail industry was "not as joined up as we should have been".

Theresa May takes questions in the Commons

Theresa May takes questions in the Commons

He stopped short of calling for more powers for his organisation but said in future he wanted Network Rail, whose failure to finish vital engineering works on time contributed to the chaos, should be more involved in conversations with the industry.

At Prime Minister's Questions today, Manchester MP Jeff Smith said to Mrs May: “It took nearly 5,000 cancelled trains for the Transport Secretary to notice the Northern Rail crisis.

"If the Government can’t run our railways properly, will the Prime Minister agree with council leaders, businesses and over 25 newspapers from across the region and give Transport for the North the powers to do the job?”

The Prime Minister responded: "We have given Transport for the North unprecedented powers to influence decisions about transport decisions in the North, but what's more, we've backed them up with £260m of government funding, so it has the powers to deliver a transport strategy, which the Government must formally consider, fund organisations and deliver transport projects."

She added: "Those powers are exactly what Transport for the North requested."

Asked later if the Government would be open to considering any request from TfN for more powers, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "I'm not aware of any (requests) being brought forward.

"I think the PM's point was that the powers that have been asked for have been granted, they have all the powers that they have currently requested. But if there's a proposal that comes forward then we will always consider it."

Mr Cridland, whose organisation held an extraordinary meeting yesterday to discuss the Northern Rail crisis, said: "Improving the passenger experience in the forthcoming days and forthcoming weeks can only come by using existing powers.

"All these questions about powers are perfectly legitimate, but there is a day job to be done, and the day job is getting on with the rules as they currently exist, and trying to help people not have the disruption they've had in recent weeks. That is where we are focused as an organisation and a board."

Saying that the rail industry needed to be more "joined up", he said the Rail North Partnership needed to have "everyone round the table who is involved in that value chain".

He said: "What one part of the rail industry does has a big knock-on implication for the next part of the rail industry and we weren't as joined up as we should have been.

"We are focused on doing the job with the powers we've got, but in the audit of what went wrong, getting the industry to operate more cohesively, I think is part of what TfN will try to achieve."

Mr Cridland added that as well as looking at numbers of delays and cancellations when holding operators to account, TfN would also now start looking at whether shortened trains had led to over-crowded carriages.

Henri Murison, Director of Northern Powerhouse Partnership, which represents business and civic leaders, said: "This last two and a half weeks have proved that Transport for the North need to have full control over Network Rail and our Northern leaders need the government to give them the devolved power, authority and funding to make sure this never happens again.

“Backing the Blake Review, led by Cllr Judith Blake together with Transport Minister Jo Johnson MP, demonstrates that government realise the need to make significant and long term changes.

"This particularly needs to focus on ensuring that the upgrade between York - Leeds - Huddersfield and on to Manchester is done right. We need the government to commit to get behind the detailed and well thought-out proposals her review will deliver.”