The following blog was published this morning in the Argus Newspaper in their opinion piece slot: Warren Morgan, leader of Brighton and Hove Council has suggested that the Southern rail franchise, currently being mismanaged by Govia Thameslink Railway be passed to a consortium of Local Councils and businesses in a new body called Transport for the South East. In Warrens words this would give “commuters and businesses a democratic, accountable voice in who runs our rail service and how they perform”. He goes on to say “Rail South would be potentially made up of representatives from Brighton and Hove, East and West Sussex County Councils and businesses, operating within the framework of the new Transport for the South East sub-national transport body, acting in a statutory role approved by the Department for Transport.”
On a positive note this bright idea, if a bit simplistic is a good starting point for a discussion about how future transport structures across the UK could be held to account through regional bodies that include Councils and Businesses amongst others. However asking the existing Local Economic Partnerships to run rail franchises (or similar) is clearly impractical. The idea that safety issues or even timetabling could be decided through a committee of Party Political folk and a small number of businesses who collectively have no experience of running anything more than a grant deciding and strategic policy think tank is ridiculous. Our rail services need to be strongly coordinated on a national basis and Warrens scheme has all of the hallmarks of a few folk setting up a train set in the local community hall. There are other gaps in Warrens idea. His idea of building on the LEP model where businesses are leading players at the table along with Councils, but not voluntary sector organisations or the Police or MPs or other vital parts of the communities to be covered by Transport for the South East is deeply concerning. Many people including myself already have strong reservations about LEPs because of their narrow focus and wish to see them reformed, not extended.