This week’s newspapers carried the intriguing suggestion that Boris Johnson might re-order the construction of High Speed Two so that the railway’s northern sections are constructed first.
The new review of HS2 ordered by Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, is theoretically empowered to make a decision on whether or not to proceed with it at all.
Yet whilst the idea of scrapping it altogether will strongly appeal to many activists and MPs, there doesn’t appear to be any real expectation that this will happen. It would certainly be an unusual start for a Prime Minister with a track record of enthusiasm for high-profile infrastructure projects, and key political supporters of the project such as Andy Street are on the commission.
One might perhaps expect Dominic Cummings, who has been quoted as calling HS2 a “disaster zone”, to perhaps drive a move against it. But as he attempts to overhaul the Government and prepare the country for a no-deal exit from the European Union in the autumn, it’s unlikely he’ll have the bandwidth to imprint himself as totally on the Prime Minister’s agenda as some myth-makers might suggest.
Shifting the order of construction, on the other hand, might be more plausible. At present the London-to-Birmingham stretch of the route is slated to open in 2026, with the northern extensions not expected to be running until 2033.
Lord Forsyth, who chairs the House of Lords Economic Committee, has warned the Government not to allow cost overruns on the southern leg of the line to leave insufficient funds to complete the northern sections, which would connect Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds.
This warning might chime with Lord Berkeley, a “railway expert and Labour peer” who has been appointed as deputy chair of the review. Berkeley is a strong critic of HS2, repeatedly challenged Department for Transport’s figures and warning about spiralling costs.
Building the northern stretch of the line first would be a big offer, in both practical and symbolic terms, to the North of England – no small consideration for a Prime Minister who, as a former Mayor of London, might risk being viewed as capital-focused. It could also open up the possibility of embarking on ‘HS3’, otherwise known as Northern Powerhouse Rail, sooner, or even extending the high-speed network to Scotland… and beyond?Read More
Eddie Stobart, one of the most recognisable brands on UK roads, was plunged into crisis after it suspended its shares, said goodbye to its boss and revealed it was delaying publication of its half-year results as it reviews a discrepancy in its accounts. The group’s chief executive Alex Laffey stood down with immediate effect, and will be replaced by Sebastien Desreumaux, currently chief executive of Eddie Stobart’s iForce business and head of contract logistics.
The group added that it expected the review of its interim accounts, carried out in conjunction with its auditors, would affect its earnings for the first half of the year. As part of the process, the company said it is applying a “more prudent approach to revenue recognition” and looking into provisioning issues.
Although revenue for the first half is expected to be in line with previous guidance, adjusted underlying earnings are likely to be “significantly lower” than anticipated at the time of a trading update last month. The interim financial results, which were scheduled for publication on 29 August, are now not expected to be released until at least early September.
Six weeks ago the group revealed that following a review of its accounts, its earnings for last year were £2m lower than previously reported. Meanwhile, earnings for the first half of this year are expected to be significantly lower than anticipated at the trading update last month.
Another Woodford casualty
The company said: “The board has full confidence in the ability of Eddie Stobart’s management team to deliver an improved performance for the group going forward, and remains confident in the strength of the underlying business.”
The news from Eddie Stobart on troubled investor Neil Woodford, who’s Woodford Invesment Management owned 23 per cent of the logistics firm.
Founded in 1970 by its eponymous founder, Eddie Stobart now operates around 2,700 vehicles, 5,000 trailers and 43 operating centres throughout the UK and Europe, employing 6,600 people.
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Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio, and is the author of the forthcoming book ‘Why can’t we all just get along’.
I have very mixed feelings about HS2. I am usually all in favour of visionary transport infrastructure projects. I rather liked the idea of the Boris Island Airport, and still regret that he didn’t make it part of his leadership campaign. I also think high speed rail is a good thing.
However, I still don’t think the business case for HS2 has really ever been properly made. Capacity is clearly an issue on parts of the West Coast main line, but it seems to be the Manchester trains which suffer, rather than the Birmingham ones.
The Prime Minister is clearly minded to cancel the whole project, and hopes that the review announced this week will give him political cover. Quite how he will explain the waste of upwards of £7.2 billion I don’t know, but presumably the saving of a further £80 billion will be used to show how other parts of our transport system could be improved.
Of course, if HS2 is cancelled, one would quite reasonably wonder whether the third runway at Heathrow might be next on the list for a prime ministerial cull.
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A new Kantar poll puts the Conservatives on 42 per cent, with Labour trailing on 28 per cent and the Brexit Party on only five per cent. The Liberal Democrats were constant on 15 per cent.
So, a 14 per cent lead for Johnson. Is this a “Boris bounce”? None of the other polls have shown a lead anything like this big, so everyone should treat with a huge degree of scepticism. But since it is widely believed that there will be a general election by the end of November, this is not a bad place to start from.
But as ever, a Conservative election success surely relies on us leaving the EU on October 31st. If we don’t, quite a few of those per centage points will be shaved off by Nigel Farage.
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Talking of Farage, he has made clear that, if the Prime Minister signs up to any form of deal with the EU, the Brexit Party will stand candidates against every Conservative candidate up and down the country. The only way to avoid that would be for us to leave on 31 October with no deal.
That outcome seems ever more likely as each day and each exchange of letters with Donald Tusk takes place. But as with Farage, I have a feeling in my water that the prospect of a last-minute deal hasn’t entirely disappeared. Yet.
The purists may hate it, but in the end, we have surely to remain of the view that a good deal is better than no deal. The trouble is that few can see what would actually constitute a good deal from the UK viewpoint. We can all see what a bad deal looks like, of course. But how we get from that to a good deal is anyone’s guess. –
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The ‘N’ key to my laptop has come ustuck. Makes me thik a ew computer may be i order. I could stick it o agai , I suppose. But where’s the fu i that?
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This is my first and only week’s holiday of the year. I’m spending it in Norfolk doing nothing at all – apart from writing this, and two other columns.
And watching box sets. I’ve finished Designated Survivor on Netflix and have now started the Korean version. I’m quite used to watching programmes with subtitles, but normally I can pick up a few words of the language. Not Korean. It’s almost impossible to follow.
I’m also reading Andrew Roberts’ brilliant thousand page biography of Winston Churchill. I always find these doorstops of books incredibly intimidating, mainly because I normally only read before I go to sleep, and therefore only manage three pages a night. So I’m pleased I’m already on page 200. Right, time for another chapter…Read More
Boris Johnson is cynically raising doubts over the future of HS2 in order to shore up support ahead of a general election, the country’s former National Infrastructure tsar has warned.
Lord Adonis, who is also a former transport secretary, condemned the Prime Minister’s decision to launch a major review into the high speed rail link, insisting it will lead to “significant delays and added costs” to the scheme.
The Department for Transport announced on Wednesday that it will hold an independent review into “whether and how” the Government will proceed with the 250mph railway connecting London and the North.
Review a ‘despicable decision’
Led by Douglas Overtree, a former chairman of HS2, the review will examine the benefits, affordability and scope of the vast project, who will report back to the Prime Minister in the autumn.
But Labour peer Lord Adonis, who chaired the National Infrastructure Commission until 2017, attacked the decision to stage a review as a piece of “politicking” by Mr Johnson.
“It’s a despicable way to run a major infrastructure project. You can’t write an in-depth review into something like Hs2 by the autumn. It will only add delays and costs to the overall project,” he told i.
“If you look at the make-up of the committee, it is stuffed full of people who are either very pro-HS2 and those who are utterly against it. Johnson is trying to be all things to all people. This is more to do with securing support from his base ahead of a general election,” he added.
Lord Adonis said the scheme will likely go ahead once a general election was out of the way, meaning the review would create needless costs and delays to the project.
Mr Johnson has previously called for HS2 to be scrapped, and has come under significant pressure from the Conservative grassroots to abandon the scheme, which runs through swathes of Tory heartlands.
During the Tory leadership campaign, he said it was sensible to have a review but stopped short of calling for it to be halted.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told the BBC that the Government would “not just carry on ploughing more money” into HS2 just because it had already spent significant sums on the scheme.
“So we need to have a look at HS2, we need to make sure that it is under control, that the money is being well spent, if that is the way we go,” he added.
‘Uncertainty and confusion’
The review has been supported by Labour, but there are concerns over its terms of reference, particularly suggestions that the line could terminate at Old Oak Common, rather than Euston station.
Latest estimates have placed the expected cost of HS2 at between £75bn and £85bn.
Manchester Metro Mayor Andy Burnham raised fears the review could add “uncertainty and confusion” to the future of the scheme.
Henri Murison, Director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership said HS2 is a “vital project to help rebalance the economy and make us more productive”.
Joe Rukin Campaign Manager of Stop HS2, said: “If this is to be a genuine review as to whether to go ahead or not with the project, the government must cease all works immediately, because damage to irreplaceable habitats and ancient woodland is happening as we speak.”
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Northern Rail has put thousands of tickets to places across the north of England on sale for just 10p each.
More than 50 destinations are included in the flash sale, including routes to Manchester, York and Liverpool.
According to the company, over 80,000 tickets are currently being sold at a rate of 10p for adults and 5p for those under 15.
Selected journeys in September are available to book through the company’s website, but they are quickly being snapped up.
Tickets selling fast
Only a limited amount are available and will be handed out on a first come first served basis.
Tickets are not available to buy from stations and must be booked in advance through the Northern Rail website or the Northern app.
Manchester Airport is one of the most popular destinations on offer, but journeys to Leeds, Liverpool and Sheffield are also being bought for 10p.
David Brown, Northern’s Managing Director, said: “We had an exciting start to the summer with the launch of our first brand new trains. And we continued the great news for customers with the first Pacer retiring.
“Now, with better trains already on the network, we want to celebrate the end of summer with an offer that gives thousands of people outstanding value travel.”
Rising rail fares
The sale was announced just days after it was revealed rail commuters face an increase in season ticket costs next year of almost three per cent.
A 2.8 per cent rise in season ticket prices would lead to an increase of more than £100 in the annual cost of getting to work for many commuters.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said he was “not delighted” about increasing rail fares.
Research by passenger watchdog Transport Focus shows that fewer than a third (30 per cent) of rail commuters are satisfied with the value for money of their ticket.
The organisation’s director, David Sidebottom, said: “Transport Focus believes it’s time for a fairer, clearer fares formula based on calculations that use the Consumer Prices Index, rather than the discredited Retail Price Index.
“After recent disruption and a lot of misery over last winter, rail operators still have a great deal to improve.”
Northern Rail has been under fire following a string of timetable disruptions and strikes last summer.
In August last year, former Prime Minister Theresa May was urged to intervene after the disruption reportedly drained the economy of £38 million.
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A new rail discount card for 16- and 17-year-olds that offers 50 per cent off train fares launches today.
The 16-17 Saver card will allow young people and their families to hang on to an average of £186 every year and could help teenagers from low-income households impeded by travel costs to stay in full-time education for longer, according to the Department for Transport (DfT).
What does it cost?
Costing £30, the Saver card is valid for one year or until the user’s 18th birthday, whichever comes comes first.
Where can I use it?
It is valid across England, Wales and services into Scotland, though the card does not entitle travellers to discounted fares on ScotRail or Caledonian Sleeper services.
The card cannot be used for rail travel in either Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland.
How to apply for it
Visit the 16-17 Saver website.
Online applicants must provide evidence of their age, a digital passport-style photograph and a debit or credit card for payment. Young people without internet access can also apply for the card by phone.
Customers can then choose to install the Saver on their phone or to have a printed card sent to them in the post.
Once they receive their card, they will be able to start buying tickets for travel from 2 September.
Helping teenagers get to college
The DfT, which developed the discount scheme together with the rail industry, believes the card will improve access to education.
Rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris said: “A generation of rail passengers can now benefit from cheaper fares, keeping money in their pocket and helping them get to school, college and work.
He added: “It’s tempting to say fares should never rise, but the truth is that if we stop investing in our railways then we’ll never see it improved.”
David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, described the card as a “huge step in the right direction”.
“Many [young people] from disadvantaged backgrounds find themselves making difficult choices about their future based on how much their journey to college will cost, increasing the pressures of staying in education,” Mr Hughes said.
“Travel costs should never be a barrier to education.
“[The card] will give a much-needed helping hand to thousands who rely on rail travel to access education and training,” he added.
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LONDON — Boris Johnson’s post-Brexit immigration plan is still “being developed” but he insisted today that freedom of movement “will end” on October 31.
At a regular briefing for journalists, a spokeswoman for the prime minister said “tougher criminality rules” for people entering the U.K. would be immediately introduced, as one example of how the U.K.’s immigration policy would shift from day one after Brexit.
Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May had been planning a “transition” period until the end of 2020 during which the U.K. would continue to have the same obligations as an EU country, under the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated with the EU27. That deal was voted down by parliament and Johnson has called for it to be reopened.
The new prime minister’s tough stance has big implications for a host of industries reliant on workers from abroad such as the farming sector and the National Health Service, and would require immediate changes to immigration checks at airports and ports.
The spokeswoman said the government’s settled status scheme, which May’s government set up to guarantee that EU nationals living in the U.K. before the end of 2020 are able to remain in the U.K. indefinitely, would continue as it had previously been announced.
The Home Office said today that, while EU citizens will have until December 2020 to apply for settled status, it will only be EU citizens living in the U.K. before 11 p.m. on October 31 that will be eligible.
“Freedom of movement as it currently stands will end on October 31 when the U.K. leaves the EU. For example we will introduce immediately much tougher criminality rules for people entering the U.K. Details of other changes immediately on October 31 for a new immigration system are currently being developed and we will set out further plans on that front shortly,” the spokeswoman said.
“The prime minister has obviously been clear he wants to introduce an Australian-style points base immigration system,” the spokeswoman added. Australian visas are allocated in line with criteria including age, qualifications and English language ability.
Home Secretary Priti Patel has sent officials to Singapore to “understand how a well-functioning immigration IT system is developed. Specifically, ensuring we can count people in and out the country,” the Daily Telegraph reported Sunday.
However, concerns have been raised it would be impossible to implement immediate changes because the government has not yet solved the question of how to distinguish between those who were already in the U.K. before Brexit and those who will enter the country post October 31, and because government will not have finished registering all EU citizens already in the U.K. by then.
A Downing Street official privately admitted that in a no-deal scenario there would not be a lot of time available to make a “significant change” to the U.K.’s immigration system and to get a new system ready.Read More
The leak of Operation Yellowhammer, the British government’s no-deal planning dossier, indicates a hard Brexit would be “far, far more potentially disruptive” than industry has been told to prepare for, according to the Freight Transport Association.
The U.K. government must urgently clarify what it predicts the impact of no deal will be for moving goods into and around Britain, James Hookham, deputy chief executive of the Freight Transport Association (FTA), told POLITICO’s London Playbook.
The FTA was particularly blindsided by the suggestion in the leaked document that the government’s own no-deal zero-tariff policy could hit the U.K.’s domestic fuel industry, leading to the closure of two refineries, strikes and disruption to fuel availability, Hookham said.
While he said the FTA had not seen the original Yellowhammer document, Hookham added: “That really frightened me, because that’s clearly got the potential to disrupt all U.K. goods distribution activity and commercial activity, if the domestic fuel supplies are under threat. That’s certainly never been raised with us before.”
He continued: “We’re calling for some kind of independent review of the evidence and the scenarios that the government’s using, just to get it all out on the table. What we’re feeling now is that we’re just shooting in the dark, we’re being asked to prepare for something that we don’t fully understand and that the government’s not prepared to share with us … All of a sudden this isn’t just queues at Dover … this could have a knock-on effect to all domestic goods distribution and that is orders of magnitude more than we were led to believe might happen.”
Any threat to fuel supplies would be a “game-changer,” Hookham said, and urged the government to be open about its expectations to help industry prepare. “What we want now is just some honesty and some clarity. How can we help to mitigate this if we don’t know what we’re trying to solve?”Read More
If there is one tax cut that would show in totemic fashion that post Brexit Britain is truly ‘Open for Business’, it would be to cut Air Passenger Duty (APD). Since its introduction in 1994 by then Chancellor Ken Clarke, APD has increased by 680% for long haul flights and 160% for short haul at the same time that flight costs overall have fallen by 30% as a result of increased competition
amongst airlines. This has left the UK with the highest aviation taxes in Europe and the developed world, more than double Germany, the next highest in Europe.
We are competing in a global market for businesses and investors. As Brexit approaches the new Chancellor must look with urgency at the impact that APD has on creating a truly global Britain. Put simply, APD is not working. It places an unnecessary cost on passengers and prevents a large number of routes from being economically viable, particularly in our regional economies.
Aviation is crucial to our Brexit future beyond the EU. It is perverse that we are taxing planes and routes ‘out of the sky’ that we need to connect us to future trade opportunities. Research conducted for Airlines UK last year showed that APD prevented a significant number of routes from being financially viable. APD is causing the UK to miss out on new routes like Bristol to Dubai;
Edinburgh to Delhi; and Birmingham to Tel Aviv.
When my colleagues and I press ministers on this, they will often respond that passenger numbers have increased over the last few years so ‘what’s the problem’. Whilst this is true, it masks the real problem. In trade, ‘connectivity is king’. We lag behind our European neighbours in connectivity terms, with Germany having considerably more direct connectivity to China, Japan, South Korea and Brazil than the UK. This connectivity problem is also exacerbated by our regional airports losing routes, with Edinburgh Airport losing its valuable routes to the USA when Norwegian Airlines pulled the routes citing sky high APD as a key factor.
Over the last year, I have met with, and had representations from, airlines from across the world. The clear message from them is that APD is holding back our ability to connect our airports across the UK to the nations that we will need to be connected to for our global trading future. One international airline made clear to me that they want to add more connections into the UK but are
prevented from doing so by the additional cost of APD to their cost base.
The Government’s approach to Air Passenger Duty is motivated by one factor – cash. Air Passenger Duty brings in over £3 billion each year to the Treasury. But this approach is simplistic and self-defeating, with research showing that more tax revenue would be raised from other taxes than would be lost from its abolition. It is estimated that there would be a net £570 million in extra tax
receipts in the first fiscal year following abolition, and positive benefits through to 2022 that could add up to as much as £2 billion in additional tax receipts.
Aviation is a key driver of economic growth. Take for example the Emirates route from Newcastle to Dubai, which has helped grow trade between North East England and Australasia from £150 million in 2007 to over £360 million for 2015. Our post Brexit future needs more of these routes and APD is acting as block on airlines adding the routes that we desperately need.
APD is an out dated, exorbitant and perverse tax that is preventing us from having the connectivity that we need in a truly global Britain. The Chancellor has the opportunity to end this and give us the flying start to our post Brexit future by cutting APD by at least 50 per cent, I urge him to do so.
The post Cutting Air Passenger Duty can give us the flying start to our post Brexit future appeared first on BrexitCentral.Read More
Train fares will rise by 2.8 per cent in January, it has been confirmed.
The annual maximum increase in regulated fares is linked to July’s Retail Prices Index measure of inflation, despite calls to use the lower Consumer Prices Index, which is 2.1 per cent.
The price hike will add more than £100 to the cost of some season tickets, with routes now topping £4,500 a year.
Rail campaign groups warned that prices have now reached a tipping point at which commuters will simply “refuse to pay”.
Research by passenger watchdog Transport Focus shows that fewer than a third of rail commuters are satisfied with the value for money of their ticket.
Patrick Witter, a 50-year old project manager who travels the country by train, was made late by a delayed service on Wednesday morning when he learned of the hike.
He said: “I don’t think they should actually be doing that because if they believe in capitalism then you deliver a good service before you increase prices, and so far they’re not meeting any of those criteria, are they?”
College student Gemma Delgaty, 17, who travels 50 minutes into London said her ticket already costs a “ridiculous” £26.
“Today I’ve had to get two Tubes and a bus because the trains have been delayed,” she said. “How can you put the prices up when everyone is delayed all the time?
“I won’t be getting the train as much (if prices rise), I’ll be driving. It’s as simple as that.”
James Ellis, 28, who travels regularly from the East Sussex to Leeds, said “the only people benefiting from this are the private companies that own the railways”.
Funding for railways
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps admitted he was “not delighted” by the fare increase.
He told the BBC: “I’m not delighted by it, to be perfectly honest, as a train commuter.
“The truth is we do now have a situation where average wages are going up faster than inflation, so if you don’t keep this tracking with inflation you are actually effectively putting less money into transport and less money into trains and you won’t get them running on time doing that either.”
Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald said Labour would bring the railways into public ownership “so they are run in the interests of passengers, not private profit.”
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Teenagers will have the chance to avoid skyrocketing train fares if they purchase a half-price railcard.
Following an announcement rail fares will rise again in January, the Department for Transport has announced 16 and 17-year-old travellers will be able to purchase a railcard, and avoid the three per cent rise in train fares coming into effect from January.
The pass, priced at £30, will be valid for journeys in England and Wales, as well as for season tickets.
But while the pass is designed to help those travelling to carry out their studies, it carries a snag for those who turn 18 during their time in further training or college.
Discount travel for 16 and 17-year-olds
While 1.2 million teenagers will be eligible for the new card, those who turn 18 during their studies will not be eligible for the discount.
Independent transport watchdog, Transport Focus said in a statement: “It would be better if this card also covered the entire sixth form period. As it stands students turning 18 early in their second year of studies will lose this valuable discount.”
It added that local authorities already subsidise fares for this age group, so it is not entirely clear how much more the new card will save holders.
Those in need will be able to purchase the ticket on 20 August from 9am, and will be valid on journeys from 2 September.
Train fares rise
The rest of country, however, will be left to grapple with another train fare rise.
Commuters in Leeds have condemned train operators for offering an “atrocious” service after news broke of an increase in season ticket costs of almost 3 per cent from next year.
The price hike of up to 2.8 per cent will come into effect as of January 2020.
It is set in line with the retail prices index, and will see train fares will push the average season ticket past £3000 for the first time.
Season ticket train fare increase
Listed by location, current price and cost of increase:
Woking to London – £3,348 – £3,442 – £94
Ludlow to Hereford – £2,280 – £2,344 – £64
Liverpool to Manchester (any route) – £2,620 – £2,693 – £73
Neath to Cardiff – £1,760 – £1,809 – £49
Maidenhead to London – £3,188 – £3,277 – £89
Whitehaven to Carlisle – £1,980 – £2,035 – £55
Welwyn Garden City to London – £3,016 – £3,100 – £84
Gloucester to Birmingham (any route) – £4,238 – £4,357 – £119
Thetford to Norwich – £1,992 – £2,048 – £56
Tweedbank to Edinburgh – £2,820 – £2,899 – £79
Bangor to Llandudno – £1,300 – £1,336 – £36
Stonehaven to Aberdeen – £1,388 – £1,427 – £39
Weston-super-Mare to Bristol – £2,000 – £2,056 – £56
Stirling to Glasgow (any route) – £2,228 – £2,290 – £62
Edinburgh to Glasgow (any route) – £4,084 – £4,198 – £114
Alnmouth to Newcastle – £2,180 – £2,241 – £61
Plymouth to Exeter – £3,476 – £3,573 – £97
Some rail users in the Yorkshire city suggested that prices should be dropping to reflect the quality of the service they experience, with one branding the rise as a “shambles and a disgrace”.
James Ellis, 28, travels regularly from the East Sussex town of Hastings to Leeds, and also uses the Northern train service to visit friends and family.
He said that the current service he gets on trains is “absolutely obscene” and called for nationalisation of the railways.
Discussing trips to see friends around Yorkshire, he said: “I have to really think about when I’m going to go, because I couldn’t do it last minute, you have to buy months in advance.
“Where’s this money going? It’s not going on the services that we’re going to use. All that’s happening is that prices are going up and up and up, fares are going up and up and up, and the only people benefiting from this are the private companies that own the railways.”
Mr Ellis said that he regularly boards Pacer trains, which were brought into service during the 1980s and are built from the body of a bus frame.
Bruce Williamson, from campaign group Railfuture, warned customers will refuse to pay train fares if they rise any higher.
He told The Guardian: “It might be that we’ve now reached the point where we cannot simply put fares up and expect passengers to take the hit.
“They will just give up and refuse to pay. They will either find another job or another form of transport.”
The rise of railcards
Travellers looking to avoid pricey fares can opt to buy a railcard if they fit the criteria.
As it stands, 16-25 years olds can buy a railcard for £30, reducing their fares by a third, while millennials can purchase a 26-30 railcard, which applies the same discount.
The next available discount is for travellers aged 60 and over, who can purchase a railcard for £30 to save a third on fares.
For those travelling together, the Two Together railcard is another option — but you do have to travel with the other person for the discount to apply.
Andy McDonald, Labour’s shadow transport secretary, told The Daily Telegraph: “Every year, commuters are being asked to pay more money for bad train services.
“The government has sat back and allowed private train companies to cash in while people’s pay has been held back. Fare rises undermine urgent action to tackle the climate emergency by pricing people off the railway.”
Tory MP Steve Double, a member of the Commons Transport Committee, added: “We are seeing passenger numbers continue to increase on the railway, but the responsibility has to be on the rail operators to prove the level of service.
“If people are seeing their fares increase, they have a right to expect a level of service that is reliable and represents value for money.”
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Andy Street is Mayor of the West Midlands, and is a former Managing Director of John Lewis.
When the Prime Minister gave his first speech at the Manchester Science and Industry Museum on July 27, he spoke of the “basic ingredients of success for the UK”.
He spoke about culture, liveability, responsibility in power and accountability – but the subject that resonated most with the experiences of the West Midlands was his belief in the power of connections.
He said: “Inspiration and innovation, cross fertilisation between people, literally and figuratively, cannot take place unless people can bump into each other, compete, collaborate, invent and innovate.”
The West Midlands provides a case study for the UK in how connectivity can transform an area by linking its communities, its geography, its businesses and its people. In the UK’s most diverse region, this commitment to connection is a key part of the new Urban Conservatism we are building here, which is winning support.
In a region spread across the seven boroughs of Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton, connectedness has been vital in building a sense of unity. Most obviously, huge investment in our transport network is allowing our communities to physically meet.
But as the Prime Minister said, connectedness isn’t just about tramlines and buses, it’s about encouraging the sharing of ideas to drive growth – and it’s as old as the hills.
Successful city states – going back to the Italian Renaissance and beyond – flourish by bringing people together to drive social and economic progress through greater understanding and innovation. The lesson of history is that places that unite different cultures to distil their ideas and harness their ambition are successful, be it 18th century London or 20th century New York.
Here, that ambition means connecting an increasing number of economic hotspots. From the cluster around the NEC known as ‘UK Central’ to the massive Phoenix 10 brownfield reclamation scheme in the Black Country, the resurgent economy in the West Midlands is creating jobs that require connectivity. Investment in public transport is building an arterial network taking people – and their ideas– into these centres of opportunity.
But the real lesson of the West Midlands story is how we are learning to connect people, not places. The Mayor’s Community Weekend, for example, brought tens of thousands of people together over 165 events through a partnership between the West Midlands Combined Authority and the National Lottery Community Fund. A hundred workplaces joined in with the Mayor’s Giving Day, encouraging charity in all forms. My Faith Action Plan brings together different faiths. We are even connecting the generations through my Cricket Cup at Edgbaston on September 8, which will see grandparents and grandchildren take the field together.
In such a diverse place, these soft social initiatives solidify to bind the connections we make, simply by getting involved. The alternative to connectedness is isolation, which breeds intolerance. It’s critical to stand against intolerance of any kind, whether it’s racial, religious or the kind of schools protest against equality teaching we have seen in Birmingham.
We are also making great strides in closing divisions in our communities to improve social mobility. In 2007, 20% of our young people left school with no qualifications, a figure that has been brought down to 11% through retraining in areas like digital and construction, and growth in modern apprenticeships.
That’s being helped by a unique feature in the West Midlands – the Apprenticeship Levy Transfer Scheme, which allows us to spend the unused apprenticeship levy paid by big firms more sensibly. Closing skills gaps like this is another way that we promote connectedness across and within our communities.
Connectivity in a more literal sense can be achieved through technology. I was encouraged by the PM’s commitment in his candidacy to speed up the roll-out of Fibre Broadband across the country. This kind of quick expansion is vital if we are to ensure that no areas are left disconnected from digital opportunities through under-investment.
However, with 5G coming first to our region, we aren’t prepared to wait for connections to spark innovation. Just a few weeks ago a ground-breaking trial here hinted at what can be achieved with 5G, when we linked local ambulances to doctors in A&E in real-time. The same technological connectivity is driving our automotive sector in its ambition to become the UK capital of driverless vehicles.
Sitting as we do at the heart of England, the West Midlands is positioned to benefit from the Prime Minister’s ambition to better connect the nation and rebalance the economy. As the PM said, “We need to literally and spiritually unite Britain, and that means boosting growth and bringing our regions together.”
To me, there is no greater instrument for this ambition than HS2 – the single piece of investment that will unlock millions of pounds of transport and housing infrastructure our region desperately needs.
Sites like the new tram line from East Birmingham to Solihull are indelibly linked to HS2. We have a target to ensure local people are never more than 45 minutes from a HS2 station, and schemes such as reopening closed railway lines and the impressive Sutton Coldfield Gateway have been meticulously planned around this major investment by the Government to sew our country together. Without it we are definitely poorer.
Connections need to be international too. As Michael Heseltine pointed out in this report ‘Empowering English Cities’, which was commissioned by the West Midlands Combined Authority, the underperformance of our major cities on the world stage is a critical problem that must be solved if we are to balance our economy.
However, this does not mean adopting an adversarial position to competing city regions like Rotterdam, Lyon, Frankfurt, Milan, Chicago and Sapporo, it means ensuring that we have the global connections to take in the best ideas and turn them to our own advantage.
This crucible of cultures concept is the very purpose of the civic university, and you will not find a better example than Chamberlain’s University of Birmingham – which is why our universities must, post-Brexit, continue to welcome International students. They literally connect us to the world and the ideas developing beyond our shores.
Travel opportunities are also important in nurturing our global position. Birmingham Airport has its sights set beyond the Brexit horizon with continued growth in passenger numbers. Work is due to start on its T18 project – named because it will create a terminal that can handle 18 million passengers a year, a rise of nearly 40% on the previous record, achieved in 2017.
HS2 makes this project even more important, as the airport will only be 38 minutes away from Euston, much quicker to get to from North London than both Heathrow and Gatwick.
Finally, I consider my own role as Mayor of the West Midlands to be one of connectivity. Overseeing a region where Labour control the majority of local authorities has meant that my job has often been about providing the glue that holds us all together, encouraging teamwork. In the UK’s youngest, most diverse area, this Urban Conservative approach is paying dividends politically as we attempt to make more of our constituent authorities Conservative.
This kind of inclusive Conservative leadership is where the party must be – and we are looking to Prime Minister Johnson, as the former Mayor of Britain’s mega city, to understand this and follow it through in Government. The Prime Minister will know what a Conservative Mayor in an urban region can achieve through physically connecting people – whether it’s through social connections, transport connections or digital connections – and I hope he will be considering how we can replicate this across the country.Read More
Passenger railway operators in the U.K. have struck a deal to stay inside the Interrail pan-European ticketing scheme just a day after announcing they would leave following a dispute with the company that runs the system.
“We are pleased to be able to tell passengers that we have reached agreement and will be remaining part of both the Interrail and Eurail passes,” the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), which represents British operators, tweeted on Thursday.
Interrail, which today offers tickets for 31 countries to European residents, has been running since the 1970s. The Eurail pass is available to those not based in Europe. Both are managed by the Dutch-based Eurail Group.
The split between the RDG and Eurail came after U.K. companies stopped taking part in a trial program for the Eurail ticket. British companies wanted to “secure a competitive position for their BritRail Pass,” which offers travellers tickets for the U.K. network, according to Eurail’s General Manager Carlo Boselli. RDG claimed it had been pushed out by Eurail.
The U-turn came minutes after recently-appointed British Transport Minister Grant Shapps called the move “counterproductive” and urged the RDG to to “reverse their decision.”
“Britain’s train companies never wanted to leave Interrail,” the RDG said just before announcing a deal had been reached. “Following the strong reaction to news of our departure we and Eurail, the company which runs Interrail, renewed talks.”
Eurail said it sold more than 300,000 Interrail tickets in 2018.Read More
U.K. rail firms will no longer participate in the Interrail system of pan-European ticketing, ending the prospect of cheap summer jaunts through Britain for young travellers from the Continent.
Tickets bought up until the end of December will still be valid for trains in the U.K. this year, the Eurail company which runs the system said in a statement Wednesday, but British participation will cease from January.
Young Brits will still be able to buy an Interrail pass and travel across Europe.
Eurostar tickets will still be included in the scheme, offering travellers connections from Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam into London. Discounts on ferry services to the U.K. will also continue, Eurail said. But operators of trains running on the U.K.’s privately-run passenger network have opted to stop accepting Interrail tickets, which typically offer free rides on a certain number of days and discount tickets to those under the age of 27.
The decision will apply to Interrail and the Eurail ticket, which is available to travellers from outside the 31 European countries that participate in Interrail.
The U.K. has been a part of Interrail since 1973, the same year it joined the EU. However, despite the timing the scheme is an arrangement between companies rather than formal EU policy so is not connected to Brexit, said Mark Smith, who runs train travel website The Man in Seat 61.
“This is a decision of the British train operators, it’s on them,” said Smith. “It’s as if they see the grass-roots [flight shame] movement towards rail, and instead of welcoming it, deliberately go out of their way to stop it.”Read More
BERLIN — German automaker BMW will move ahead with plans to produce an electric version of its iconic Mini at a factory in Oxford from November, despite potential post-Brexit chaos in importing key components from the Continent.
While the e-Mini will be put together at the Cowley site, which employs around 4,500 people and already builds the conventionally fuelled Mini, the drivetrain — a crucial part transferring power to the car’s wheels — will still be imported from southern Germany.
That means any problems with shipping parts from the Continent after a possible no-deal Brexit on October 31 could impact BMW’s ability to deliver the vehicle in large numbers. Company officials have previously hinted at plans to move some production of the conventional Mini to the Netherlands depending on the terms of Brexit, but for now executives are sticking with the e-Mini Oxford plan.
“The November start of production date [has] been in the plan for years and from long before the Brexit deadline reset, so this is no more than a coincidence,” Graham Biggs, a U.K.-based BMW director, told POLITICO, adding that BMW would “have to work around” any potential disruption caused by a disorderly Brexit on October 31.
The e-Mini is a key component of BMW’s broader electric shift, which was recently ramped up to include at least 25 new models by 2023. Around 45,000 customers have registered interest in buying the car, according to Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, almost half of whom are in the U.K.
At present, BMW imports about €2 billion worth of car parts into the U.K. from the EU every year to feed its production. In advance of the previously expected Brexit date of March 29, BMW scheduled an annual maintenance shutdown to mitigate any expected disruption at major import terminals around April 1, a feat it doesn’t plan to repeat this time.
BMW Customs Manager Stephan Freismuth said earlier this year that stockpiling beyond just a few days would not be feasible either. “We are producing ‘just in time,’ and just in sequence,” Freismuth said.
BMW’s outgoing CEO Harald Krüger has called for a meeting with U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson to discuss Brexit and to mitigate any risk, while his incoming replacement, Oliver Zipse, is a former plant manager in Oxford.
Matthias Schmidt, a Berlin-based automotive analyst, reckons BMW might benefit from any loss of value of the pound and if things get really bad, it may choose to start “clandestinely shifting more production to the EU” and maintain just a modest output in the U.K. to serve the local market.
“The problem for BMW is that [the Mini’s] heritage and DNA belongs well and truly to the U.K.,” said Schmidt. “So the option to up sticks and shift the facility to mainland Europe doesn’t necessarily come into question.”Read More