Headlines: July 17th, 2009

A new report is calling for groups of councils to be given more power over failing rail services and to ‘recall’ franchises. The New Local Government Network wants clusters of authorities to be able to hold franchises to account, including the right to trigger a review of their contracts. It follows the recent decision temporarily to take the franchise for the East Coast mainline back into public ownership.

The present system is for rail services to be managed by the Department for Transport through franchise agreements lasting from seven to ten years. Under the NLGN proposals groups of sub-regional local authorities could trigger a refreshing or reconsideration of a contractor if certain local targets or service satisfaction levels are not met. The think-tank believes this would give a greater voice to people in areas suffering from poor services, delays, overcrowding or unreasonable fares policies. All franchise agreements would have additional clauses inserted allowing for councils to represent the needs of local commuters.

The report, ‘On the Right Track: New models for integrated transport’ is also proposing measures such as a regional ‘Oyster’ system so sub-regional authorities could offer cheaper rail and bus services. This, it says, could provide capital for authorities to invest in improved public transport. The report estimates such a scheme could raise a floating loan of almost 50 million pounds for the Leeds city region and almost 45 million for the Manchester city-region.

Report author Nigel Keohane says transport is disjointed in terms of where people buy tickets, make connections and get information. “Without new approaches, congestion is likely to stall economic recovery, we will struggle to meet our climate change aspirations and passengers will be left frustrated and unconvinced by what public transport has to offer,” he writes.