Government delays publication of report on Southern rail troubles until after the election

Rebecca Smith
The train operator has had a tricky year with a raft of strikes causing disruption
The train operator has had a tricky year with a raft of strikes causing disruption (Source: Getty)

The publication of a report into Southern rail troubles has been delayed until after the General Election, leading MPs to criticise the government for sitting on the findings.

The report looking into Southern owner Govia Thameslink Railway, was carried out by Chris Gibb, a non-executive Network Rail director with 35 years’ experience in the industry.

The Department for Transport (DfT) received the report at the end of last year and has faced calls to publish its contents, to provide more insight into the running of the train operator.

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But in response to a question from Caroline Lucas, the Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, rail minister Paul Maynard said: “The department will not be publishing Chris Gibb’s findings before parliament prorogues, however we intend to publish Chris Gibb’s report in full, with minor redactions to protect commercially sensitive material, and the government’s response, in due course.”

“The government have now been forced to admit that they are deliberately keeping this report secret ahead of the General Election," Lucas said in response.

They’ve had this report for well over three months and have simply chosen not to publish it, despite repeated calls for them to put the information on the table.

Ministers need to explain why they are keeping long-suffering passengers in the dark – no doubt it is because of the Transport Secretary’s complicity and responsibility for the failures that have created our rail nightmare. This is deeply undemocratic and an absolute disgrace.

Chair of the Transport Select Committee Louise Ellman, also criticised the government for holding back the findings.

"The full report was received by the government in December, so I question why they have been sitting on it since then," she said. "It is extremely disappointing that the General Election means its publication will be delayed - long-suffering passengers deserve to see these important findings."

Gibb was brought in last September to form a project board to make recommendations to Transport Secretary Chris Grayling and assess how Southern could boost performance in a year buffeted by industrial action, delays and cancellations.

City A.M. understands the report covers issues including timetabling and coordination with Network Rail in regards to engineering work.

The use of a management contract for the franchise has also come under scrutiny, with the Transport Select Committee saying in February that the arrangement was part of the trouble.

The DfT receives revenue from ticket sales and takes on the revenue risk, with the company - GTR - operating the service in exchange for a management fee, in the region of £1bn.

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The Committee said in February that this exposes the DfT financially. In the case of GTR, the net revenue losses for the year amount to at least £38m - "revenue, which could have been re-invested in rail services, lost to the public purse".

Despite the significant operational failings of GTR, it paid just £2m in penalties for its first year of operation – only 0.2 per cent of its £1bn management fee.

Read more: Government will pay long-suffering Southern rail passengers over £8m

The DfT was approached for comment.

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