March 3: Back on track or a false start?

IT would be naive to judge the effectiveness of the East Coast main line’s return to the private sector on the basis of yesterday’s performance – day one of a new franchise with Stagecoach and Virgin Trains at the helm.

A clearer picture will only begin to emerge in a year’s time when there is more evidence about the operator’s day-to-day performance – and whether passenger improvements are actually being delivered.

Irrespective of the continuing debate about whether privatisation has been good for the railways or not, failure is simply not an option on this key inter-city route which links Yorkshire with both London and Scotland. This line has endured a chequered history following the financial collapse of the GNER and National Express franchises which prompted the last Labour government to re-nationalise services.

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Given the extent to which the line’s fortunes were revitalised by a return to the public sector, it can only be hoped that the Stagecoach and Virgin Trains joint venture repays the faith that has been shown by Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin and proves that his decision to privatise the line has been driven by the interests of passengers rather than on grounds of political ideology.

It is also noteworthy that the new livery and staff uniforms carry the “Virgin Trains East Coast” moniker – the powers-that-be clearly think that tycoon Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin brand will provide the reassurances sought by the travelling public.

Yet, judging by the delays and poor service regularly experienced on routes which come under the auspices of the Virgin Cross Country long-distance franchise, performance will be key to maintaining the confidence of passengers on the East Coast route. As such, it is vital that this week’s transfer of ownership does, in fact, herald a new dawn for this railway route rather than yet another false start.

Police perspective

Changing face of internet crime

WITH REGARD to law and order, a desire for more officers on the beat will top the wishlist of most voters ahead of the election. They believe that a visible policing presence is not only critical to detecting crimes but preventing offences from taking place.

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Yet, while there is still merit to this viewpoint, policing today is very different to the rose-tinted era portrayed in Dixon of Dock Green or the likes of Heartbeat, which was filmed in Goathland, North Yorkshire.

Its dynamics have been changed irrevocably by the advent, and proliferation, of cyber-crime, a point acknowledged by West Yorkshire Police with the launch of its public awareness week coinciding with the creation of a dedicated unit to combat internet-related offences. Even though this is predominantly a faceless crime, the distress caused by internet trolls, online fraudsters and such like is, nevertheless, comparable

to the upset suffered by those whose homes have been burgled.

In many respects, this initiative is a welcome by-product of the creation of police and crime commissioners – Mark Burns-Williamson, who oversees policing in West Yorkshire, has chosen to make this a priority As he says himself: “There is a potential step-change required within policing and law enforcement generally to fully understand the scale and impact of technology-enabled crime.”

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He is right and any new policing practices developed locally should be shared with other forces. After all, this problem is not unique to West Yorkshire – cyber-crime is now a national and international issue.

BBC back in focus

What is the Corporation’s role?

TONY HALL, the director-general of the BBC, posed a number of important questions in his keynote policy speech, namely “Why do we still need the BBC? What will it do? How must it change?”.

Yet, while Lord Hall reaffirmed the importance of public service broadcasting, and the opportunities posed by changes to communications technology, he did not pay sufficient heed to two of the Corporation’s weaknesses.

It does need to do more to address its future funding – spending restraint in the public sector is here to stay while the licence fee has become a misnomer in an era of mobile devices which are exempt from this charge.

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Lord Hall also needs to recognise the concept that “less is more” – yesterday’s message is unlikely to assuage those critics who believe that the BBC has become too neglectful of prime-time television and those original programmes which were the Corporation’s stock-in-trade until it diversified.