Yesterday something predictable happened. Then something unpredictable happened.
The unsurprising event was the arrival of a letter from the Head of Public Affairs of Network Rail, Ed Wilson. It was addressed to me as an MP, and doubtless was one of 650 sent to every named Member. It told me how wonderful the railways are, and asked me to sign an Early Day Motion. This Motion says ” That this House recognises that Britain relies on rail transport…….and calls on the Government to consider the economic benefits of rail schemes when determining value for money projects in the Comprehensive Spending Review”.
The letter also enclosed a printed press release in my name as “Local MP”, a copy of the Motion to sign and a text telling me how important the railways are. Mr Wilson also told me that over the next four years they are “committed to cutting the cost of the railway by nearly half compared to five years ago” implying that it is far from cost effective today.
This is the same Network Rail that has refused to develop the obvious property opportunity afforded by its poor quality station and extensive car park in Wokingham ,despite years of urging. They missed the good years when they could have obtained a new station at no cost to the company, thanks to the golden potential of the land they owned which could have attracted suitable planning permission. This is the Network Rail that needs billions in subsidies every year to continue to offer the tracks for use, presides over three cumbersome local level crossings which now generate large congestion owing to the long delays with the gates down, and fails to put in the extra capacity in busy areas that it needs. How come they have money to send out letters and draft press releases to MPs? Do they really think this is a substitute for having a good business case to justify their requirements for public subsidy?
Then a senior executive of a leading quango came to see me. It was one that I have found difficult to get to do anything useful in recent years. He told me they would cut the back office by 30%, amalgamate their offices, use natural wastage to cut staff and direct more of the cash to useful services we do need. He told me the country cannot carry on with public spending at 50% of GNP and that we do have to cut the deficit.
Are you listening Network Rail?