Transport select committee chair reveals it needed to push the DfT hard to get details of Southern rail contract

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Transport select committee chair Louise Ellman is unsure when rail minister Paul Maynard (pictured) will decide whether Govia are in breach of contract (Source: Getty)

The government deliberately withheld details regarding the Southern rail contract from the scrutiny of a select committee, an MP has claimed, and has been accused of dragging its heels on dealing with the rail firm's operational failings.

Transport select committee chair Louise Ellman revealed her frustration at the lack of action by the department for transport (DfT) in the dispute between Southern rail and the trade unions.

When probed by the committee, the MP said the DfT were rather coy in disclosing the precise details of the agreement with Southern to operate the network.

Read more: Grayling says unions rebuffed offers of help and promised 10 years of pain

“The transport committee had to pursue the department very strongly before we were able to get any information from them [about the contract with Southern rail]," Ellman told City A.M., adding: “They did not want to disclose any information about the contract until they were forced to.”

Unlike other train operating firms Govia is paid a fixed fee by the DfT for operating the network. And Ellman criticised the government for letting Southern off the hook.

“They [Southern] are on a fee that continues, apparently, whatever their performance. But the government is supposed to be assessing whether its performance is sufficient and therefore it should lose money and it hasn’t come up with an answer. And that’s just not acceptable.”

The DfT has also overshot its November deadline for ascertaining whether Southern’s owner Govia is in breach of contract for its operational performance. And Ellman said the committee has been left scratching their heads as to when they will get any substantive answer from rail minister Paul Maynard.

Read more: Southern begs rail users to not travel tomorrow

Earlier today, economics minister Simon Kirby revealed he had received a letter from transport minister Chris Grayling confirming the government had attempted to get involved in the dispute.

However, despite writing to the Rail, Maritine and Transport union (RMT) and drivers union Aslef, to offer to sit down and thrash out a deal, Grayling had received no response.

“These passengers are suffering and it looks as though there is no end in sight...The department can’t wash its hands of it,” said Ellman.

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