Rachael Maskell MP was given time for an Urgent Question in the House of Commons today on ‘The Future of Great British Railways’, dragging the Minister of State to the Chamber of the House of Commons to explain why GBR had been shelved in this Parliamentary session.
It is expected that all announcements are made in the House of Commons, however the Transport Secretary decided that she would instead say that she was shelving plans for GBR in the Transport Select Committee. Last week the Speaker of the House responded to Rachael Maskell’s Point of Order to say that announcements should be made to the Commons.
As a result of this, York and other locations have been left in the dark as to whether the new HQ for GBR will move out of London, and what the Government’s plans are for the future of the railways.
Following the publication to this House of the Williams-Shapps review, Government announced in the Humble Address (Queen’s Speech), on 10 May 2022 that “legislation will be introduced to modernise rail services and improve reliability for passengers.”
As part of this process the then Transport Secretary launched a high profile ‘competition’ for the location of the headquarters outside of London. 42 locations bid and 6 were shortlisted: including York, as part of the Levelling Up agenda. Each location shortlisted hosted a Ministerial visit over the summer of 2022 involving public sector, rail industry and community stakeholders. In parallel, the public participated in a public vote over their preferred destination. All at significant cost to local authorities.
In her questions, the MP for York Central asked what the result of the public vote was, to which the Minister replied “I do hope to be able to announce the successful location shortly, subject to other events outside this chamber.” Many people across York voted, and should have a right to know the outcome. However, the shock revelations last week have left the rail industry in flux and passengers across the network battling with rail failure, soaring ticket prices and for some services, poor reliability.
Rachael Maskell MP said:
“The rail sector was pinning its hopes on GBR to address the chaos across the railways, while York had invested heavily in bringing GBR to our city, York having the most advanced footprint in the future of rail technologies, engineering and operations. With Government not making a proper statement on shelving GBR in this Parliamentary session, no-one is enlightened as to how Government intend to proceed. This is not fair on passengers or people who work across this transport sector.
“In asking a series of questions in Parliament I have sought to get clarity on what this Government is really doing behind the scenes and to ensure that the 6 out of 42 locations shortlisted to host GBR’s HQ still had this opportunity, or were at least compensated if these plans were scrapped.
“If we are going to see rail advance and be the major driver of achieving modal shift, getting passengers out of their cars and onto clean public transport, then modernising and improving the connectivity, reliability and customer service is essential. Even after today’s Urgent Question, there are many questions left unanswered.”
In the Minister (Kevin Foster)’s reponse, he stated “There will be a GBR at the heart of our rail network, with a HQ located in one of our great railway communities.”
Rachael has also secured a meeting with the Minister to discuss his plans further.