AS THE trains are supposedly a public service, its leaders should be subjected to the standards expected of NHS, education and council supremos.
It’s why The Yorkshire Post was the first newspaper to call for Chris Grayling to resign when the scale of the Transport Secretary’s betrayal of the North, and multiple other failings, became clear.
Yet, while the obfuscating Minister, now universally known as Macavity in these parts, still abdicates responsibility for the summer’s rail chaos because he says he doesn’t run the trains, the case for reform is overwhelming.
In recent weeks, I’ve called for customer service commitments to be the focus of all future rail franchises – and for commissioners to be called in to take over the Northern and First TransPennine Express routes which have been allowed to become a national embarrassment. I also said fare rises should be linked to reliability and punctuality rather than Mr Grayling’s cack-handed plan to penalise hardworking rail staff dealing with the chronic mismanagement of others.
Now I’d go further. I’d introduce a transparency test so the pay and perks of all transport officials earning a basic package in excess of £100,000, whether they be civil servants, the 300-plus HS2 staff already earning six figure sums or executives running the privatised train operators, is published.
The public interest demands nothing less following reports that Leo Goodwin, the managing director of TransPennine Express, received a £36,000 bonus in the last financial year. His total package, which has not been denied, is now said to stand at £360,000 – up on £16,000 on the previous year. It comes after his basic pay rose £10,000 to £275,000 while his bonus rose by £3,000 to £36,000. His pension was also boosted by £3,000.
TransPennine Express refused to answer my questions which offered them a chance to explain the criteria for determining bonuses, how many executives are entitled to them and whether they will be waived.
Like you, I’d love to know if this bonus took into account late-running trains between the North’s main cities? I’m none the wiser. With just 20 per cent of the firm’s services actually running on time, I also asked – on your behalf – when travellers can expect half of trains to arrive within 10 minutes of schedule. Again no answer. Do TPE – or its PR consultancy – understand public relations?
The Department for Transport was similarly unforthcoming. Asked when it knew about Mr Goodwin’s reported bonus, and whether the Government needed more power to intervene over such matters, a spokeswoman said: “Remuneration levels are a matter for individual train companies.” Other questions were referred back to the non-responsive operator. Presumably the DfT just wants the £300m that First Group is due to pay the Government or the right to run the franchise until March 2023 – and doesn’t care about how this is achieved and the human misery being caused.
Yet this is no consolation to passengers, like those in the Pennine communities of Slaithwaite and Marsden, who Mr Goodwin declines to meet in spite of them enduring more than 400 late or cancelled trains in three months.
Meanwhile improvements promised by Mr Goodwin on services to and from Scarborough have not materialised. For the second time this summer, cricket supporters attending Yorkshire’s County Championship match were stumped by late – and cancelled – trains. Some services only got as far as Malton.
With industrialists at Sirius Minerals, North Yorkshire £3.2bn potash mine and one of the North’s biggest private sector investments, going public this week and warning that poor rail services are hindering its work and alienating global investors, the current service to the coast is a betrayal of the pronouncement made by Sir Patrick McLoughlin – the then Transport Secretary – when First Group won the TPE franchise in 2014.
He said the firm “will deliver exciting, ambitious plans that will make a real difference to customers, and – coupled with our commitment to push ahead with electrifying the vital TransPennine route – will help the region realise its full economic potential, ensuring it has a modern 21st century transport system”.
Really? Not only have things got markedly worse, but the promised electrification plan is going backwards and Jake Berry, the Northern Powerhouse Minister, put the onus on the newly-formed Transport for the North when he visited Sirius Minerals this week.
Mr Berry knows TfN still needs the necessary policy and financial powers. Will he deliver them? And will he, and the Government, commit to customer reforms which would stop the first class financial gravy train that Leo Goodwin, and others, have caught at the expense of all those passengers stuck on a third class service because of the rail industry’s mismanagement and weak leadership?
Only those letting down commuters should be fearful of such a transparency test. Yet they’re the ones still at the wheel of this policy wreck. And that’s still the problem.