To consider the overview of the process for shaping train operator business plans for the 2024/25 financial year.
Lead: David Hoggarth
5.1 Members received the report from the Head of Strategic Rail who highlighted the key points in the report.
5.2 The Chair introduced the item by stating that this is an opportunity to consider how the North can support improving the railway rather than merely restoring it to a stable position. He explained that that the North is being told that this will be difficult financially and he encouraged the committee to challenge a whole country planning approach as cuts to services in the north mean whole communities can be left isolated. He stated that the conversation should be about improvement and highlighted the strong recovery to rail in the north.
On the issue of timetabling, he highlighted the success (in terms of performance) of the December 22 timetable change stating that the industry was seeking a 20% reduction in lateness and that the achievement has been 40%; he believes that approach taken may have been over cautious.
5.3 Cllr Hinchcliffe highlighted the importance of the social impact highlighting the fact that stopping rail services and disconnecting communities from growth is damaging for the economy and country.
She then highlighted a number of services within the West Yorkshire area that had been taken out of the timetable and sought assurance that these services will be replaced if there is capacity to do so. She also sought a commitment that there will be no further changes or detriment to services in the December 23 timetable.
5.4 The Chair suggested that the position needs to be reviewed as to the areas which suffered detriment in December 2022 and if there is any funding availability, then the industry should be asked to look at the scope for reinstatement of services. On the issue of funding this he stated his belief that there is some scope for efficiency as both operators are now under the operator of last resort (OLR).
5.5 Lord McLoughlin suggested that there should be an opportunity to look for revenue growth which will help to provide other services that are needed. He also highlighted the opportunity for station redevelopment with both providers now under the operator of last resort. He stressed the importance of grasping and developing this opportunity.
5.6 Mayor Driscoll stated the importance of making things simpler for the travelling public with transport being integrated leading to increased passenger numbers and greater revenue.
5.7 Mayor Coppard welcomed the direction of travel and recognised that there may not be a return to pre-Covid positions with a return to all services that existed previously. He did however request that progress be made to the return of some of the services in his area and stated his willingness to engage with operators to achieve this.
5.8 Mr Richard George highlighted the importance of prioritisation of leaders in the north to the process. He stated that the priorities of the North are very different to those involved in the business planning process in the DfT. He stressed the importance of the North’s voice remaining strong.
In response to the 40% reduction in late trains Mr George explained that it worked well as everyone was involved in working together and he cautioned against wanting to use the capacity more because of the improved performance and explained that improved performance was about using the capacity well.
The Chair congratulated the operators and partners on the 40% reduction in lateness.
5.9 Cllr Hinchliffe requested that the DfT be pressed on the issue of social inclusion and diversity and their decision making and is worried about the constant cutting of services. She also explained that this needs to be reflected in the settlement that operators receive from Government,
5.10 The Rail and Road Director suggested that the work on prioritisation be considered before returning it to the committee in advance of the September meeting.
5.11 Lord McLoughlin asked if there is any flexibility for TPE to have online sales which might include integrated travel.
In response Richard George stated that more revenue earning schemes will be considered, but stated that this is difficult.
The Chair asked for the operators to try to be more innovative.
5.12 He asked whether there would be an efficiency gain as a result of both operators being under the control of the same OLR as a result of the reduction in duplication that can be realised within the timeframe and be part of a funding package that supports the ambitions of the committee.
Mr George explained that having the two operators under the OLR will allow for more joined up thinking and collaboration but doubted that there will be more money to utilise. He informed the Committee that Northern and TPE will not be merging as this is something that they have not been asked to do and emphasised that collaborative working is the way forward, but this will not necessarily generate funds for other uses.
5.13 Mr Nick Donavan highlighted the importance of long term thinking and explained that the planning for timetable changes starts well in advance of their implementation.
5.14 On the issue of stations, the Head of Strategic Rail explained that there is a massive opportunity and that Northern have been working on a programme called ‘Stations as a place’ where stations are made part of the community with modern facilities and retail outlets. He further stated that there is now an opportunity to work with TransPennine Express in a similar way.
5.15 Mayor Rotheram stated that stations need to be made more accessible to passengers.
5.16 Cllrs Hinchcliffe, Gannon and Swarbrick volunteered to be part of the Business Planning Working Group together with constituent authority officers on priorities.
That the, the strategic priorities for train operator business plans for 2024/25 are amended in line with the discussion and brought back to the next meeting for consideration.