Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180 - 199)



  180. But where is that money actually coming from?
  (Mr Bowker) Effectively, it comes from the money that I get in order to run the Authority.

  181. Which is from Train Operating Companies?
  (Mr Bowker) No; no, it comes from Government, it comes from DTLR.

  182. So, effectively, you are a laundering service for the Government, to fund their Company Limited by Guarantee bid team?
  (Mr Bowker) Government's view is that it would be wrong not to have a bid.

  183. So do you think there is a conflict between the Secretary of State funding a bid team and the Secretary of State being the final arbiter in the decision-making process, over which bidder is finally chosen?
  (Mr Bowker) It is for the DTLR and the Secretary of State to decide on their conflict issues; but what we are doing, what our work primarily is doing, is making sure that, to the extent that any bidder wants to talk to us about what the SRA's position is, in relation to Railtrack's successor going forward, we are open to talk to anybody.

  Chris Grayling: But do you not feel you are putting the SRA into an impossible position; you are, effectively, laundering the Government's bid, but also you are trying to be neutral arbiters to all the other bidders? How can they possibly look upon you as a fair arbiter, a fair negotiator, in this?


  184. You will not take that decision though, will you?
  (Mr Bowker) Which decision?

Chris Grayling

  185. Not the final decision, but the negotiations over some of the details?
  (Mr Bowker) We will negotiate with any party that wishes to come.


  186. In exactly the same way; you have already said that?
  (Mr Bowker) Absolutely clear.

Chris Grayling

  187. Can I take you to the detail of the Plan. You have made a number of assumptions in the Plan, or a number of very clear statements, about the timetable for the completion of projects. Let me give you two very specific examples, one being the extension of platforms on the South West Trains, and the other being the Special Purpose Vehicle and the modernisation of the South Central route. Both of those dates are the dates that were set out in the original Heads of Agreement with those companies for the franchise renewal. Mike Grant, when he appeared before this Committee, told us that he could not guarantee that those franchise negotiations would be completed on time, in fact, he said they would be delayed. Both those companies have told me that they do not expect those projects to be completed in anything like the time frame that was originally in the Heads of Agreement; in the case of South West Trains, they used the date of 2006/2007, yet your Plan still contains the original date of 2004. Can you explain that?
  (Mr Bowker) I cannot comment, obviously, on what South West Trains may have told you; but we are working very hard with both them and South Central to progress those projects, and we are looking at ways in which some of the key infrastructure components could be protected, to make sure that they are not subject to delay as a consequence of bigger issues on sorting out the longer-term franchising issues.

  188. So are you able to give us a categoric commitment that it will be possible, and indeed that it will happen, that those projects are completed according to the time frame in the Plan?
  (Mr Bowker) I cannot give you a categoric commitment about anything in the Plan, on that. What I can say is that we are working extremely hard with them and with Railtrack, who are involved, to do it in the earliest possible time frame consistent with the Plan.

  189. Why was Central Railway not referred to in your Plan at all?
  (Mr Bowker) You are referring to the freight railway?

  190. Yes?
  (Mr Bowker) Because, the way that the Plan has been analysed, we do not believe that Central Railway, as currently conceived, well, we believe we can deliver the freight target on the basis of the plans that we have got in here. However, we have been talking to Central Railway and we will continue to do so, but we believe we can deliver these freight targets without that specific project.

  191. But if a project of that scale were to go ahead, given what we have discussed earlier about skills shortages, and so forth, it would be a huge logistical exercise for the industry, right in the midst of your 10 Year Plan process; so it would be surprising, if you were expecting that project to go ahead, if it were not referred to in the Plan?
  (Mr Bowker) Anything we look at that is not in the Plan has got to be assessed on the basis of its business case, on its viability, on its value for money and the impact that it has in terms of resourcing. And you are absolutely right to say that we have got to be careful that we do not suck out, by doing other things, the resources that we need in order to deliver the commitments, and that will be a concern. I think it is a manageable concern, but it is a concern over the next few years. And that will be part of the criteria for assessing any new project.

  192. So, in your view, will Central Railway go ahead?
  (Mr Bowker) I honestly cannot say. We will look at that, like we will look at any project, and form the appropriate view at the time.

  193. Lastly, can I just ask you about the capacity issue, congestion issue. The assumption in the Government's Plan and in your Strategic Plan is, whether it is 40-50 per cent, or 50 per cent, nonetheless, very substantial growth in passenger numbers over the next ten years. Does the investment programme deliver an increase in capacity in the places where you expect that growth to happen, to keep up with growth in passenger numbers, or, in fact, is that 50 per cent growth going to lead to increased levels of congestion on some routes?
  (Mr Bowker) Certainly, if you take 50 per cent as a target, or 40-50 per cent as a target range, that is an average, and it is also an average not just by geographical region but also by sector markets, so it takes into account peak, off-peak, and so on. What the investment here does is address the issues that are entirely interlinked with capacity, like overcrowding, and says, "Look, we need to make sure that, in creating capacity for growth, we are also addressing overcrowding as well." So the range is an average, and I accept that, and beneath that there are some more specific issues about how we address specific markets.


  194. Can I ask you, have you got a detailed investment plan, with a sort of week-by-week assessment of where you are going to go, and a set of measures that would enable you to know how you are doing?
  (Mr Bowker) What we are doing at the moment is turning this into a detailed SRA Business Plan that will enable us to manage its implementation. I must be clear and say that when I arrived at the SRA one of the things that I found a concern was that the organisation itself was not able to implement delivery in as effective a manner as I wanted it to do. And so, in parallel with this, we are undergoing a major organisational change to bring a lot more focus on delivery. Now I am not waiting for that to happen to do what you have just suggested, we are doing that as well.

  195. No, but there will be a proper structure, and you will be able to say, for example, at a certain point, "It looks as if we're going to hit an underspend"?
  (Mr Bowker) There will be a much better structure in place to deliver project spending than I believe the—

  196. A much better structure; but if you did not have a structure before, anything is a much better structure?
  (Mr Bowker) I want the most "fit for purpose", most effective structure I can get.

  197. Then I ask you again, will it be detailed and will it be set against a series of indicators that can be properly assessed?
  (Mr Bowker) I know of no other way to run an organisation, to make sure that we know what we are delivering and we know how we are delivering it.

  Chairman: Oh, Mr Bowker, where have you been all my life?

Andrew Bennett

  198. What minefields are you looking at; this lack of an asset register, as far as Railtrack, how important is that lack of an asset register?
  (Mr Bowker) The asset register is very important indeed, and that has been recognised by the industry for some time. There is quite a lot of information, but it is not kept up to date and managed, perhaps, in the way that it ought to be. It has been recognised by all the industry parties, the rail regulator has made it a licence condition, given its importance. So it will take a little bit of time to get that in place, there is no doubt, and during the period of getting it in place we may have to make some transitional views, particularly on issues like risk allocation. But, long term, it is the right thing to have, and it is essential.

  199. So it is possible that almost all the things that are in the Strategic Plan are going to have to be based on somewhat dodgy foundations, because you do not know what the assets are that are involved in those particular projects and the need for their renewal?
  (Mr Bowker) I would not say perhaps dodgy. There is actually a significant amount of information that does exist; it is actually the manner in which it is communicated and updated which is perhaps a very serious issue.

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