Why this region’s leaders must stand up to TransPennine Express – Tom Richmond

NOW that the Northern rail franchise is back under public control, what do politicians – and local leaders – intend to do about TransPennine Express services?

By Tom Richmond
Saturday, 7th March 2020, 5:55 am
TransPennine Express managing director Leo Goodwin quit this week.
TransPennine Express managing director Leo Goodwin quit this week.

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TransPennine Express boss quits at last – The Yorkshire Post says

It’s a question already exercising Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, First Group’s poor performance on this route has also been perplexing passengers – and business leaders – for many months.

Freeserve founder, entrepreneur and regular rail user Ajaz Ahmed made many requests for a meeting with TPE managing director Leo Goodwin. He’s not going to get his wish after the rail boss abruptly left parent company First Group on Thursday. Was he pushed or did he jump? We have a right to know.

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TransPennine Express is one of the worst performing rail operators in the country.

It spoke volumes about Goodwin’s ineffectiveness and indifference that he chose not to meet passengers like Ahmed, despite earning over £300,000 a year and with less than half of his firm’s trains running on time – talk about taking commuters for a ride on this gravy train.

An early test will be the willingness, or otherwise, of interim managing director Liz Collins – previously TPE’s finance director – to open lines of communication with the public. It will be a start.

But Ahmed, who has to travel by train because of his epilepsy, is equally unimpressed with Ben Still who, as managing director of West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA), could become even more influential over transport if the area’s devolution deal is confirmed in next week’s Budget.

Even though the pair have met (take note TPE), the inertia of the Combined Authority boss explains, in many respects, why local councils, and the public sector, have been ineffective advocates for this region. I’ve seen Ahmed’s follow-up email and it is blunt: “There is no sense of urgency from any of the people in the public sector that I’ve spoken to. It’s no good empathising with the people who have to put up with the poor management of the rail companies; you need to do something about it. My journey home after I met you was a nightmare.”

TransPennine Express services have come in for sustained criticism.

On WYCA’s own attempts to meet senior TPE executives, Ahmed writes: “If anyone junior turned up to meet me, I would turn them around and ask them to leave with a message that I only want to meet the senior people. If that doesn’t happen, I would report it to the Transport Secretary. It’s only likely to happen once.”

On continuing poor performance, he ventures: “Can you ask TPE to prove they have sat down with the people who drive the trains and the guards and asked them how make changes to improve the service?

“The people who work with the customers often know what to do, but never get asked.” And so it went on. Yet the consequences extend beyond TPE. It’s the actual ability of leaders here to implement new policy powers and stand up for this region if the Government persists with the investment injustices that have left the North disadvantaged for decades.

In my view, many of the key stakeholders also have much to prove.

IT is a tell-tale sign that a Minister is in deep trouble when Michael Gove is summonsed to defend them in the Commons. He backed Home Secretary Priti Patel to the hilt over myriad allegations about bullying and relationships with officials at three separate Whitehall departments.

Gove also turned the tables on his inquisitors by pointing out that “Labour MPs required armed police protection at their own party conference, and that the shadow Chancellor spoke of lynching Members of this House”.

Boris Johnson also did likewise at PMQs. But what I don’t understand is why Tory MPs and Ministers cheered both men to the rafters – bullying claims are never any cause for celebration.

FURTHER proof that Boris Johnson erred by declining to call a meeting of COBRA – the Cabinet committee that responds to emergencies and contingencies – over the flooding is provided in a new book by one of David Cameron’s key lieutenants.

The Gatekeeper charts Kate Fall’s time as Cameron’s deputy chief of staff. It was also her sobriquet. She notes the benefits of such meetings – provided that they’re well-chaired and are not allowed to disintegrate into a “talkathon”. “The point of COBRA is to bring co-ordination to what is often an uncoordinated set of resources, and the prize, as always, is found in the detail,” writes Fall. The problem is, Boris Johnson is not a details person.

KATE Fall’s book reveals how David Cameron and George Osborne, the-then Chancellor, carried out reshuffles.

“It is like Game of Thrones. George tries to decapitate one of David’s friends (not literally). David retaliates. George wants to promote his protégé Matt Hancock every time – even though the Chief Whip invariably pushes back.”

I’m not surprised given Hancock’s record as Health and Social Care Secretary. He’s failed, in over two years, to reform social care. The sector is being crippled by cash and staff shortages. And now Hancock is leading the nation’s response to coronavirus outbreak. Help.

PERHAPS trees are, after all, the first line of flood defence. I say that after hearing about a Yorkshire farmer who called out a drainage consultant to look at his boggy fields.

“Walking into the field he said ‘it’s not the drains that are the problem, it’s those’, he pointed to the hedgerows. He explained that he meant about 30 dead elms,” the landowner explained.

“They had been drinking the water but now they were not. A mature elm would drink enormous amounts of water a year. The ancients knew what they were doing when planting hedges.”