Ex-chancellor George Osborne tells Transport Secretary Chris Grayling: No more reviews, get on with fixing the railways

The former chancellor George Osborne has criticised the Government’s response to this summer’s train chaos in the north of England, telling the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling to stop commissioning reviews and reports and get on with fixing the railways.

Speaking to ITV News, Mr Osborne said the rollout of the May timetable which saw a spate of delays and cancellations was a “total mess”, and “fed up” passengers don’t want any more reviews and reports and commissions by the Secretary of State for Transport.

"What they want is action and they want the power over running the railways here in the north of England given to the people of the north.”

He added “a lot of rail passengers don’t have much confidence in the way the railways are run here.

"We know it’s a mess, but we know how to fix it: stop trying to run everything from Whitehall and central London, that’s the way to... fix the railways.”

Cancellations and delays were consistent in the weeks after the timetable change.. Credit: PA

Speaking in York, the chair of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership also said Brexit was getting in the way of greater investment in the North.

“Brexit is taking up a huge amount of time and energy,” he said.

“I think one of the frustrations is that if we weren’t spending all this effort on those Brexit talks, essentially trying to recreate outside the EU what we already enjoy inside the EU, then we could be trying to fix the big problems this country faces.

"Which is how do we deal with new technology, how do we get our schools even better, how do we make sure places like the north of England here grow even stronger.

“Those are the real priorities for the country, but of course we’re focused on Brexit.”

Pushed on whether or not he supported the idea of a second Brexit referendum, or a “people’s vote”, the editor of London Evening Standard wouldn’t be drawn.

“If you read the Evening Standard then you’ll see what our position is as a newspaper, we think there are good options available to be in things like the European Economic Area - that’s what my paper I edit recommends.”

There was mass disruption when a new rail timetable was introduced on May 20. Credit: PA

His comments come in the wake of a report published on Thursday by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) chair Professor Stephen Glaister into the May timetable disruption.

The new schedules started on May 20 and saw Northern and Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) services marred by cancellations, delays, and frustration from passengers.

The three month inquiry, commissioned by Mr Grayling, found that Network Rail, GTR, Northern, the Department for Transport (DfT) and the ORR all made mistakes, which contributed to the collapse of services, particularly on the GTR and Northern routes.

The inquiry found the industry placed engineering and planning concerns ahead of serving its passengers and the DfT failed to sufficiently use it’s power and responsibilities to question the assurances given by Network Rail and the rail companies about the risk of disruption.

George Osborne told ITV News it is proof Transport for the North, a body he helped create, should be given full responsibility of running the rail network in the North.

“What’s clear from the report today is that everyone is to blame for the total mess on the railways in the North this summer.

“But what I’m more interested in as chair of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership is how we fix the problem and the answer is glaringly obvious.

“They [the North] want the power over running the railways here in the north of England, given to the people of the North and that seems to me the sensible solution to both make people here feel more in charge and to fix the railways.”

George Osborne says the solution to the crisis is to control to bodies in the North. Credit: PA

Four years after he announced his ambition to build HS3, or “Northern Powerhouse Rail”, a high speed line running across the Pennines from Hull to Liverpool, the former Cheshire MP says the government needs to get on and build it.

“What we need in the north of England is sustained investment in the railways not just on the regular services we’ve already got because, obviously, they haven’t been working over the summer, but also the big transformative projects like a big high-speed link across the north of England.

“That would really connect up the cities of the North and bring in a huge amount of money into the Government, into the exchequer, into the economy of the North.”

Asked if Theresa May was the person to deliver that investment, Mr Osborne, who has been a staunch critic of the Prime Minister ever since she sacked him in 2016, said: “This Government will be judged not just on whether it talks about the Northern Powerhouse but whether it actually delivers real devolution, and control of the railways to the north of England.

“We’ve had lots of promises - we now need to see the delivery, we need to see not just reviews and reports but real action.”

The former chancellor made a bold promise of a 'Northern Powerhouse' in 2014. Credit: PA

Mr Osborne coined the phrase the “Northern Powerhouse” in Manchester in June 2014 as part of his plan to rebalance the economy through greater investment in the North.

Labour has often dismissed his project as rhetoric, pointing to cuts in local government spending made during Mr Osborne’s time at the Treasury and to research from IPPR North suggesting over the last decade, Londoners have enjoyed an annual average of £708 of transport spending per person, compared to £289 in the north of England.