Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120
TUESDAY 27 NOVEMBER 2001
120. Could I apologise for the slightly late
start. It is almost inevitable that we take some time. Mr Carroll,
welcome to the Committee. Would you mind introducing yourself
and your colleagues, and tell us which company you represent and
(Mr Carroll) Good morning, Chairman.
Firstly, thank you for the invitation. Although the invitation
was actually sent to myself as Managing Director of First Great
Western, we have a team here this morning that is representing
First, the former FirstGroup, the integrated transport operator.
I am the Managing Director of First Great Western; on my right
is Justin Davies, Managing Director of First Cymru, the main bus
operator; and on my left is Ben Davies, the Assistant General
Manager for the business unit now set up in North Western as part
of North Western trains.
121. I understand you have got an opening statement
you would like to make?
(Mr Carroll) Yes, thank you, just a few words of introduction.
We welcome the opportunity to give evidence this morning. As First
we are representing an overall transport operator; and the largest
bus operator in this country; a major player in the train business
in operating three train operating companies; and also significant
expertise in the provision and operation of tram services in this
country; as well as the largest operator of school buses in the
United States. I think that represents one of the key issues for
us this morning in terms of overall integration in what First
has attempted to do in terms of integration and in terms of what
it plans to do in future integration. We also believe we have
a key responsibility in driving forward current and future improvements
in rail services throughout Wales, and we look forward to questioning
and debating in that area; and we fully understand the responsibilities
that our company has in improving the economic and social prospects
of Wales in the provision of extensive bus and rail services.
Thank you, Chairman.
122. How do you think the current division of
responsibility for transport between Westminster and the Assembly
promotes (or works against) a fully integrated approach to transport
(Mr Carroll) Our main contacts are with the Strategic
Rail Authority as far as the strategic direction of railways and,
as part of that, the opportunities as far as rail and bus integration
is concerned; and key contacts with the Regional Assembly in terms
of priorities for Wales. I think there is a link there between
Westminster and Wales. We are organised both in the trains and
the bus division to try and take on those priorities and improve
both those systems within Wales.
123. Do you think it is possible for the Assembly
to pursue an integrated transport policy without more influence
over rail services?
(Mr Carroll) I think it is certainly possible for
the Assembly to influence, and they have sought to do that in
the meetings we have with them. The Welsh Assembly seeks to achieve
124. Have they asked you your view as to whether
they should have more powers?
(Mr Carroll) No, they have not.
125. Could I pursue Hywel's line of questioning
further. Do you think it is possible to have a genuinely integrated
transport policy when powers over roads and, of course, buses
are devolved to the Assembly, while powers over rail remain reserved
here at Westminster?
(Mr Carroll) I think it is possible. It is potentially
more difficult, and it clearly requires a clarity as far as relationships
and responsibilities, and a clear path of communication; but I
believe it is possible, yes.
126. It would be easier to facilitate that if
there was devolution of powers over rail services to Wales as
(Mr Carroll) I believe that a structure would be easier
to manage and have a clarity of accountability if that was the
127. Just to take that a little further across
buses and local authorities having an input. What kind of meetings
do you have with them? Do they ask for the Assembly to have more
powers or more direction, or are they happy to hold on to what
they have got?
(Mr Justin Davies) In terms of meetings with the local
authorities there has been progressively a move to local authorities
coming together in a number of different structures throughout
Wales. You have got Swift, Switch and Tiger, and you have a number
of local authorities working together who are currently developing
their own transport plans and initiatives. We have meetings with
all of those under both ourselves and with the Confederation of
Passenger Transport, and give them our views on how we feel the
structure can best be developed. The Assembly themselves have
just been consulting on what is the best structure for the administration
of transport itself.
128. Looking at franchising, the new Draft Directives
and Guidance to the Strategic Rail Authority issued in June requires
that "all bidders ... must be made aware of the criteria
upon which their bids are being assessed". In your experience,
has the Government achieved this position with the SRA yet?
(Mr Carroll) No. Clearly it is a period of significant
change within the rail industry at the moment. We are looking
forward to a clarity on the franchising process in terms of the
mix between two-year franchises, extensions and longer term franchises.
We wait with expectations of the SRA's ten-year strategy, which
is due out shortly, to provide some of that clarity.
129. We had the SRA before us last week and
they described, both in a written submission and verbally, their
previous approach, which had seemed to me fairly vague and nebulous.
They were talking about making changes that require much harder
defined targets for the bidders. Do you welcome that?
(Mr Carroll) We would, yes. You are absolutely right,
the process would move away from almost a "clean sheet approach"please
come forward with some ideas; and then there is a big debate about
money, who pays and whether there are sufficient funds available
to secure what is being proposed; against, as you say, a much
harder regime in terms of this is what we want to achieve in terms
of measurable performance, measurable improvements. I think that
would give us a much greater degree of certainty into what one
was bidding against, yes.
130. What, in your opinion, would be the benefits
or perhaps disadvantages for Wales of short, two-year extensions
to existing franchises as opposed to a 20-year franchise?
(Mr Carroll) The opportunity that a two-year franchise
extension presents is in terms of agreeing, as part of that very
extension, a package of improvements; and that would, I think,
create some immediate improvements. Many would argue the rail
industry needs some quick wins, and I think that would certainly
be an opportunity of the two-year franchise extension. The disadvantage
is that you put off the longer term vision by two years in going
through that very approach. Again, many would argue that what
we need is a long-term vision and a plan to achieve that.
131. What do you think?
(Mr Carroll) I suppose I would hedge my answer in
two ways: Wales is made up of a Great Western franchise providing
the intercity services from South Wales to London. That franchise
currently runs until 2006. I think there are some real opportunities
in extending that franchise to 2008 and getting some immediate
benefits as part of that negotiation. The new Wales and Borders
franchise, and all the opportunities that presents, I think would
be best served in moving to a long-term franchise as soon as possible.
I think that would create the certainty that the community of
Wales is looking for; and I think it would then create the agenda
for investment and change and improvements that would be part
of a 20-year franchise.
132. How close is First to agreeing with the
SRA and National Express on the transfer of the North Wales section
of its franchise?
(Mr Carroll) Ben is part of the new management team
in the North West.
(Mr Ben Davies) First North Western have set up their
business ready for migration into Wales and Borders. The staff
in North Wales are almost prepared. The management team in North
Wales is almost elect. I have been appointed my new position in
North Wales. A new customer services position has already been
advertised to take into the new Wales and Borders franchise. As
far as everything on the ground is concerned, First North Western
is almost ready now for whenever the SRA wish to take a role.
133. What are the major changes you have made?
(Mr Ben Davies) We now have a customer services manager,
purely looking after North Wales; a stations manager purely looking
after North Wales; a dedicated train crew performance manger predominantly
looking after train crew, drivers, conductors and performance
of services in North Wales. Rather than have one person, a multi-functional
person, looking after everything, we now have individual people,
responsible people, for those specific responsibilities to give
the customer the best in North Wales.
134. So we should not have the problem in the
future of monitors on a major station like Bangor being out of
order for months?
(Mr Ben Davies) No.
135. You sound very honest and emphatic in your
(Mr Ben Davies) Yes.
Chairman: Those are the sort of answers we like!
136. If you were successful in your bid for
the Wales and Borders franchise, how would you bring your services
together, the ones you currently run as First North Western, into
the existing Wales and Borders franchise? Alternatively, and equally
important, if you were unsuccessful how would you integrate so
that passengers have a fully integrated service?
(Mr Ben Davies) There are two parts to that question.
The First's franchise bid for Wales and Borders actually does
highlight more North/South services, and integrating those services
as well in particular between Chester, Wrexham and the Shrewsbury
corridor. That is already detailed in preparation for it.
137. So you would be able to undertake that?
(Mr Ben Davies) Yes.
138. Alternatively, if you were unsuccessful
how would you make sure the services did integrate with the new
(Mr Ben Davies) I think that would be down to the
incumbent of the new franchisee. It would be the same sort of
staffing, the same routes, that enabled First North Western, as
we are now, to have that route knowledge to take those services.
139. Can the passengers be confident that if
there are two separate bidders who were successful in winning
this franchise that they can have full integration? That is the
question I am asking?
(Mr Ben Davies) I believe so.