Byers accused of 'repackaging' train figures

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Indy Politics

Stephen Byers was embroiled in a new spin row last night after publishing the rail performance figures at the centre of the dispute that cost his special adviser Jo Moore and press office chief Martin Sixsmith their jobs.

He was accused of repackaging old figures on train delays and refusing to answer detailed questions about the state of the rail network.

Opposition leaders expressed amazement after the tables of reliability and punctuality figures finally published yesterday proved to be based on statistics first produced in December.

Ms Moore quit her job as Mr Byers' spin doctor while Mr Sixsmith was forced to resign as director of communications at the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions on Friday after a dispute over the release of the figures.

Downing Street acted to end the infighting over a leaked e-mail that suggested the announcement might be "buried" on the day of Princess Margaret's funeral.

The tables show the percentage of trains arriving on time for each train operator. They allow commuters to compare progress on reliability since Mr Byers took over as Secretary of State for Transport after the general election in June last year.

Separate tables show the number of signals passed at danger (Spads) and will from next month give the average age of rolling stock for each train company.

The figures show an improvement in punctuality and reliability. Overall, 79 per cent of trains arrived on time between July and September last year, compared with 75.3 per cent for the year to September.

Don Foster, the Liberal Democrat transport spokesman, condemned the tables as "wholly superficial" and attacked Mr Byers for failing to answer a series of detailed parliamentary questions about rail performance. Detailed information on delays, overcrowding, train fares and safety were all missing, Mr Foster said. "These statistics are more about good news for Stephen Byers than good news for passengers. Narrow targets set by the Government, which miss some of passengers' key concerns, are of limited use," he added.

Theresa May, the shadow Transport Secretary, said: "These figures, first published in December last year, reinforce what we knew all along – that delays and cancellations on the railway network continue to get worse under Stephen Byers.

"However, it does seem odd that two high-profile people were to lose their jobs over re-announced figures."

A spokesman for the department insisted that it had always made clear that yesterday's announcement would contain no new figures.

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