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2 July: news in brief

Concern over ‘gag’ on major rail schemes

RAIL minister Andrew Jones has reassured the railway supply chain and engineering community after concerns grew over a lack of information about forthcoming railway projects. When the Department for Transport set out its funding plans for CP6, which began in April, it set aside £10.1 billion for major schemes. But transport secretary Chris Grayling seems to have placed a gag on the details, according to Network Rail’s head of client portfolio, Yaelle Ridley. She told a New Civil Engineer conference: ‘The question I always get asked is great, so where is the list. Let’s tackle that one head on, I can’t share it with you I’m afraid. We’ve been specifically told we can’t share the list. We struggle to share it even within our own organisation which makes it very difficult for future planning.’ NCE reported that the lack of any list has led to some ‘tension’ within supply chain companies. Network Rail has already said how it will spend much of its budget on maintence and renewals. For example, on 26 June it announced the award of 17 framework contracts for minor signalling works worth around £215 million. However, at the same conference, rail minister Andrew Jones moved to play down the significance. He said: ‘We’ve been talking about record levels of budget if you look where most industries are. Do most industries have a guaranteed market place of several billions of pounds a year? So come on, let’s start having a think about how this industry fits into a broader economy. I don’t accept the premise of your question basically. We will indeed publish the enhancements plan, we haven’t published it yet, we will think about how we will do that. But really it should not be thought of some kind of concern that undermines the bigger position. Other sectors would think, this is great. Rail is being bought by this government like no other government in British history. Like no other government across Europe. So start getting with the programme of being positive.’ Railway Industry Association policy director Peter Loosley said: ‘We set out in an open letter to the Minister in March how important visibility of upcoming infrastructure projects is to businesses to enable them to plan and to establish appropriate resource levels.  We are in regular dialogue with the Department for Transport over this  issue and we are promised the list – but this needs to arrive soon. Otherwise rail businesses will continue to be left in the dark and unable to properly plan for the future infrastructure work that is so crucial to our rail network – a situation that benefits no-one.’

Union concerned about FirstGroup crisis

THE board level crisis at FirstGroup has been criticised by rail union TSSA. An emergency meeting of the company has fended off attempts by American investors to force First to concentrate on its USA businesses, dispose of its British bus companies and cease to operate rail franchises, but chairman Wolfhart Hauser has stepped down. TSSA general secretary Manual Cortes said: ‘What we see here is hard evidence that public transport should be run by and for the public. The breakup of key transport services at FirstGroup would be intolerable. The profiteers should be put back in their box – they have nothing to offer beyond their own greed. I say seriously to the Government if FirstGroup wishes to focus its business on North America, as it has indicated, then let it do so. But act now and take Firsts bus and rail services back in house; that is the right thing to do in order to protect jobs, services and our travel network.’

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