As we have noted before, our Leeds NW Liberal Democrat MP thinks of himself as a different kind of politician.
This is how he describes himself – weirdly in the third person:
It is becoming clear to us, unfortunately, that his increasing reliance on spin is bordering on the pathological. In this dossier, we are talking railways!
On the 19th of August, Greg Mulholland informed his constituents online that he welcomed the fact that, ‘North Yorkshire County Council has taken the first step in what is anticipated to be a multi-million pound modernisation and improvement of services on the Harrogate rail line.’ He continued, ‘The electrification of the Harrogate line has the opportunity to provide a boost to the local economy and bring massive benefits for businesses, visitors and local people along the route.’
Everyone who has travelled by train between Leeds to York via Harrogate knows all about delays, decrepit rolling-stock and over-crowding so, of course, they will welcome improvements to the line. But they shouldn’t build their hopes up too high. Just look carefully at Mr Mulholland’s language: ‘first step’, ‘anticipated’ and ‘has the opportunity.’
Of course, we need to plan ahead and it would be churlish not to welcome much needed transport improvements. But:
What are they?
– Converting some of the single track line between Harrogate and York to double track.
– Line electrification.
When will they be introduced?
– Line conversion – unknown.
– Electrification –unknown.
Where will the improvements be located?
– Line conversion – between Harrogate and York.
– Electrification – the length of the line, possibly.
How much will it cost?
– Line conversion – unknown.
– Electrification – unknown.
Who will pay?
– Line conversion – partly known. Mr Mulholland’s post reports that the North Yorkshire County Council will provide £2.9m and the North Yorkshire Local Transport Body a further £9.6m. In turn, this funding comes from the Department for Transport. Amounting only to £12.5m it is not clear from where the rest of the money will come but probably via Network Rail. So the tax payer will pay.
– Electrification – unknown but probably Network Rail.
Those readers who are used to Mr Mulholland’s spin-politics will recognise his usual tactic of ‘bigging-up’ his announcements.
In this case all he’s actually saying is that he welcomes a possible development in North Yorkshire that is uncosted, has no start or completion date and will be paid for, in the main, by who knows whom but probably you and me. Such money as appears available is for North Yorkshire but it might have an impact on West Yorkshire.
Meanwhile, he remains resolutely silent on two of the biggest stories affecting transport issues of concern to his Leeds NW constituents: rail fare increases and the future of the East Coast line.
Rail fare increases
Only last week the Government announced that regulated rail fares would increase by an average of 4.1% on January 2014 and possibly over 9% on some routes. This follows an average rise of 4.3% last year. Unregulated fares might rise considerably higher. The current annual return season ticket on the Harrogate – Leeds line is presently £1,488.00. If the price rises by the average rate then next year’s fare will increase by £61. Passenger Focus surveys show that less than half of rail passengers think that train services provides value for money. Indeed they are the highest in Europe.
All this, of course, must be set in the context of Leeds NW rail passengers having their wages cut in real terms. The gross weekly pay of full-time earners in the Leeds NW Constituency, 2010 – 2012, fell in real terms (Retail Price Index deflated) by a massive 15.60%. (Office for National Statistics)
East Coast Line
On March 23, 2005, GNER agreed to pay the UK government £1.3bn over the following 10 years for the franchise for the East Coast Mainline rail link. This was a lot of money and many people doubted that GNER could make the line pay.
GNER was stripped of the franchise in 2007 after its US parent firm was struck by financial troubles. In August 2007 National Express won the franchise, replacing GNER in December of that year.
Hopes for the future were high but were soon dashed. In November 2009, the Department for Transport took the East Coast Main Line under public control when National Express waved the white flag.
Since 2009, the East Coast Main Line has been in public ownership.
East Coast, a Directly Operated Railway (DOR), has been a success.
– has record levels of customer satisfaction on the line and has done better not only better than either GNER or National Express, but also companies such as Virgin, on the West Coast.
– receives the lowest subsidy of any operator in the railway system.
– returns more money back to the state than any other train operator. According to Action For Rail, ‘by the end of this financial year it would have returned £800m to the taxpayer, all of which will be re-invested in the service, instead of going into the pockets of company shareholders.’
The East Coast DOR would like to provide an even better service in the future, but the present Lib-Dem and Tory government is bent on returning the franchise to the private sector by October 2014.
Action For Rail argues that, ‘This sell-off is unnecessary, financially irresponsible and motivated by a blind faith in the false economy of rail privatisation.’ If you agree with them then why not join in their campaign to keep the line in public hands?
So where is Mr Mulholland whilst all of this is going on?
Whilst he is recycling half-baked announcements about improvements to the Harrogate line that might or might not happen, others are acting to resist the ever-spiralling rail fare increases and against the ideologically motivated reprivatisation of the East Coast mainline franchise.
So we know where Mr Mulholland is.
He is stuck in a siding, huffing and puffing but not getting anywhere.