Blair sends in 'hit squad' to improve failing railways
The Prime Minister has ordered a Downing Street "hit squad'' into failing train operators in a desperate attempt to improve rail services. In frustration with Alistair Darling, the Secretary of State for Transport, and Richard Bowker, the chairman of the Strategic Rail Authority, Tony Blair has sent senior aides to franchise holders to get a grip on the network.
The involvement of members of the Downing Street policy unit highlights Mr Blair's concern that despite billions of pounds extra in taxpayers' money, the system shows few signs of significant improvement ahead of a probable general election in 18 months.
Mr Blair is targeting Sir Richard Branson's Virgin CrossCountry network, the South Central franchise, which covers London to the south coast, Thameslink, the operator between Brighton and Bedford, and Central Trains, which run trains throughout the Midlands and the north of England. They have been selected because they are "under-performing'' andofficials believe they form a microcosm of the network.
Senior executives at the rail companies resent Mr Blair's intervention, saying Mr Bowker's SRA is already far more intrusive than it used to be, and demanding substantial amounts of detailed information. A senior railman said: "We are being audited to death. This is a diversion. I want to get on with my day job of running the railways.''
Mr Blair would say some operators have shown themselves incapable of running the railways. No 10 is not only dissatisfied with the punctuality and reliability of services, it is also unhappy with targets for improvement set by the ministry and the SRA.
Anxiety over voters' perception of the industry's performance has prompted a review to be completed in the summer. The inquiry is expected to result in a more streamlined management system with fewer organisations involved and with the SRA stripped of much of its power.
Mr Darling has indicated he would be prepared to introduce legislation to place the SRA on a different footing. Some senior sources believe the authority is an unnecessary layer of management and that logically the Department for Transport should be fully in charge of strategy. An unpublished SRA strategy document, leaked to The Independent, confirmed that all the money earmarked in the Government's 10-year plan for a railway "fit for the 21st century'' is being spent on patching up the network. The draft paper reveals that the target of increasing the number of passengers by 50 per cent in the 10-year plan would be undershot. It estimatedt the increase would be 26 per cent. One observer said that the whole exercise might show Mr Blair how difficult it was to enhance performance without considerably more investment.
A spokeswoman for Downing Street said: "It is well known that the delivery unit worked closely with the departments to improve public services. Transport is one of the important issues.''
- 1 Tourist films plane's descent just metres above packed Caribbean beach
- 2 Kate Moss: Previously unpublished nude photo revealed by Mert and Marcus
- 4 World Book Day: Boy 'excluded' from school after dressing up as Fifty Shades' Christian Grey
- 5 Bad Jews poster 'censored' on London Tube
Tourist films plane's descent just metres above packed Caribbean beach
Indian woman creates 'Marriage CV' after parents put her on dating site: 'Definitely not marriage material. Won’t grow long hair, ever'
Becky Watts: Four appear in court charged with hiding body parts after teenager's death
Isis 'bulldozes' Nimrud: UNESCO condemns destruction of ancient Assyrian site as a 'war crime'
Professor Brian Cox brands astrology-believing Tory MP David Tredinnick an 'outlier on the spectrum of reason'
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
Durham Free School: 'Creationism taught at' free school facing closure
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
Elif Shafak: Turkish author warns against rise of British nationalism
Most people think legal tax avoidance is just as wrong as illegal tax evasion, poll suggests
Nigel Farage promises Ukip will not 'stigmatise' would-be migrants – and says he wants 'everyone to speak the same language'
£65000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Engineer - central London ...
£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Physiotherapist / Sports Ther...
£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives / Advisors are required...
£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...