David Cameron had been due to carry out a junior ministerial reshuffle in July but decided to postpone until the autumn in an effort to maintain the calm atmosphere within the party going into the recess period. In the confusion, Junior Transport Minister Norman Baker was rumoured to have prematurely had his CD collection cleared out from his office in Great Minster House. Cameron is likely to use the autumn reshuffle to promote more women into valued party roles and if Baker is moved we could see a female face back in the ministerial team at DfT, with Transport Whip Nicky Morgan being touted for promotion to the role.
During the Labour party conference in late September, Shadow Transport Secretary, Maria Eagle MP, will outline various aspects of Labour’s new thinking on rail policy. The shadow team hope to implement an affordability agenda based around capping annual rail fare rises, reforming ticketing, offering a legal right to the cheapest ticket and peak time regulation. Labour is also planning to end the separate role for the Rail Delivery Group, HS2 Ltd and DOR by bringing them together with a reformed Network Rail. The intention to create an integrated 10-year transport plan will be confirmed as well as support for further devolution of decision-making on rail to the regions.
The programme of staggering franchise start dates by using a mixture of extensions and direct award contracts will continue after the summer. First Great Western has submitted its bid to extend its current contract by more than two years following a request by the government. The current franchise ends in October and while First and the DfT should be able to agree the terms of the direct award, Directly Operated Railways (DOR) will step in if no agreement can be reached. An updated ITT for the Essex Thameside (ET) franchise was due in July but has been delayed and the government is still aiming to award the contract by April 2014. The Thameslink, Southern, and Great Northern ITT is due to follow ET with a contract signed by May 2014. North of the border, the current ScotRail franchise agreement is due to expire on 31 March 2015 and Transport Scotland has decided to separate the Sleeper operation from the remainder of the ScotRail services. The main ScotRail franchise will be a 10 year contract and in July, Transport Scotland issued the OJEU requesting bidders to complete the PQQ. A draft ITT will go out to consultation in November with the ITT due to be issued in January 2014 and the winning bidder notified in October 2014. The separate Sleeper franchise will last for up to 15 years. The ITT will be issued to pre-qualified bidders Serco, Arriva and FirstGroup this autumn with responses due by December and a winner announced next summer. Both franchises are expected to start in April 2015. Bidders for the main franchise are expected to include the incumbent, FirstGroup, as well as Arriva, Serco, Virgin, Abellio and National Express. In a sign of intent, Dean Finch at NatEx has recruited former ScotRail MD Mary Grant to his bidding team, nine years after she led FirstGroup’s successful bid. Grant will focus on the franchise bid when a three-year departure agreement with First expires next spring.
The re-franchising of the East Coast Mainline is rapidly turning into the dreaded political football and Labour’s campaign in Parliament to keep the franchise in the public sector will continue once MPs return from recess. Nevertheless, the DfT is engaging with potential bidders and intends to publish the OJEU notice in October before issuing the ITT next February. Labour will be sure to pounce on any significant delays to the procurement but for now the government seems on course to make ICEC the first franchise to be tendered under the new procurement timetable. The East Coast ITT will also provide something of a litmus test as to how many of the Brown recommendations find their way into franchise specifications, building on the government’s response which was published in July.
The next step for Crossrail will be the publication of the operating contract ITT, due this month according to the Minister responsible, Stephen Hammond MP. The competition for the new fixed- term concession agreement to operate the services will be contested by Arriva, Keolis/Go Ahead, MTR and National Express, with TfL due to announce the winning bidder by September 2014. DfT is working closely with TfL to ensure that the requirements of the Crossrail operating contract are reflected in the new or extended franchises which will operate on the Great Western and Greater Anglia routes. Infrastructure works continue to progress ahead of schedule with the project well on the way to achieving the target of completing the first tunnels by the end of this year. Siemens has recently pulled out of the bidding for the rolling stock contract, leaving Bombardier, Hitachi and CAF in the competition. This is likely to be a two-horse race as CAF may well struggle with the ‘responsible procurement’ provisions included in the tender. Despite the change announced in March away from private finance, the overall schedule for the award of the rolling stock and depot contract remains unchanged, with a targeted contract award date of mid-2014.
In the face of a difficult few months in the media, the high speed rail project retains cross party support (for now) and the government has stated its intention to deposit the Hybrid Bill for HS2 Phase One before the end of 2013 and we can expect that to happen in October. The final Environmental Statement will be also be published alongside the Hybrid Bill, providing parliamentarians with information on any significant environmental effects likely to result from Phase One so that they can be taken into account before Parliament decides whether or not to grant the powers to build the railway. Progress will be neither quick nor straightforward but there is no danger of cancellation this side of the general election.
Department for Transport
Then, as we move towards the end of the year, DfT will set out its plans for the future location of rail franchise functions, drawing on the Brown Review and Infrastructure Minister Lord Deighton’s work on improving delivery of major infrastructure projects. This could well result in the creation of an OPRAF-style arms-length body with more ‘commercial expertise’ than currently exists in the DfT. This would please Louise Ellman MP and Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MP and their respective parliamentary committee memberships who are not convinced that the DfT as currently structured is best placed both to set rail policy and deliver the detailed work required to run each franchise competition.
So while we have enjoyed a brief summer respite and time to enjoy the cricket, a packed autumn in rail