Paul Plummer's speech: Rail review requires big conversation to develop ‘Britain’s proposals’ for reform

Today (14 November 2018), Paul Plummer, CEO of the Rail Delivery Group, is making a speech to rail industry leaders at the Accelerate Rail conference.

It will say that all voices must be heard in the government’s independently led rail review, and will set out six principles for the review which the Rail Delivery Group, representing train operators and Network Rail, believes should shape that national conversation. Read the speech below.

We live in an age when no public institution can expect to survive for long without explaining itself to an increasingly well-informed and ever-more sceptical public.

The age of deference, of trust in experts, of blind faith, that age is vanishing like the sand through an hour-glass.

Look around at any institution - the BBC, the Monarchy, the Universities, household name retailers, the banks, the press, and you see the same thing.

Increasing demands for justification, explanation and transparency.

This, in my view, is entirely welcome, as long as it is done without malice or closed-mindedness.

Without the trust of the public, public institutions can become arrogant and aloof.

Without scrutiny, they can develop bad habits.

Without challenge, they can become complacent.

And the greatest risk is that without a demanding population, institutions become outmoded, inefficient and lose their cutting edge.

And of course, what is true of great institutions like the Universities, NHS or BBC, is also true of Britain’s railway.

The RDG has called for a national review of the railway.

And we embrace with open arms, the Review currently being conducted by Keith Williams on behalf of the Government, and that’s what I want to talk about in my remarks today.

The Williams Review provides the whole industry with the opportunity to look afresh at what we do, ask again what our purpose is, and to invite scrutiny and challenge.

That’s why the review needs to involve everyone who cares about or is impacted by the railway. It should be a big, national conversation. Developing Britain’s proposals for reforming our railway. All voices heard, from trade unions, to passenger groups, businesses, politicians, think tanks, and of course passengers themselves.

Let me be clear at the outset. We should not fear scrutiny nor turn away from challenge. Over the last 20 years huge progress has been made but now is a once in a generation opportunity to realise the full potential of Britain’s railway. The review gives us the chance to say here are our ideas for a new system.
Let’s stress-test ideas. Let’s compare the evidence, let’s have the debate, in public and in good faith. That’s why we welcome the Williams Review, and say loud and clear that it must deliver real reform, for the long-term.

Change is necessary and now is the moment to re-forge our partnership railway for the next 25 years.

As the Rail Delivery Group, we are engaging fully with Keith Williams and his review team - explaining every aspect of our work, sharing our enthusiasm.

We will also look honestly at how and why things go wrong, such as the disruption last May when new timetables came into force. Show what we’ve learned from our mistakes and how we endeavour to prevent the same things happening again. How we provide redress to the travelling public.

I’m not going to pre-judge the review findings. I know Keith Williams to be a man of great integrity and intellectual rigour. He’ll weigh the evidence and make up his own mind.

But there are six outcomes of the Review that the RDG is advocating and which we will judge our own proposals through. These are the things we believe will set Britain’s railway up for success for the next 20 years.
Firstly, we believe the railway must put customers at the heart. A genuinely reformed railway will unlock a new generation of innovation and investment and, where its makes sense, choice for customers. 

This is key to ensuring every passenger gets a safe, reliable service, at a price they consider fair, in comfort and safety, from the station to the platform to the carriage.

Customers come first – that must be the first outcome of the review.

Secondly, reform must create clear accountability, building a structure for the railway that creates confidence in its leadership, where appropriate unifying the way services are delivered, whilst tailoring the model to the needs of those who use it. Making it clear where the buck stops when things go wrong.

The public must have confidence in the leadership of the railway, know who is responsible for what, and crucially know who to complain to, if things go awry. If customers feel their voices disappear into the void, then trust will evaporate.

So secondly, we need clear accountability.

Thirdly, we must deliver value-for-money, managing costs for passengers, freight customers and taxpayers.
Nobody wants to see a return to the days when running costs were deep in the red, lines were closed, stations were boarded up and the railway was in a state of managed decline. When our rail infrastructure had to compete for politicians’ attention, and directly with schools, health and defence for funding.

So, let’s see what the evidence tells us, and compare the impact of different systems on running costs, funding and investment. And always, always, always work to deliver value-for-money for the passengers, for freight customers, and for the taxpayer.

That’s number three.

Fourthly, our railway is more than a treasured public service, it is also a driver of economic growth. That’s why it’s vital that the right model for the railway also incentivizes investment for the long-term, expanding our network and growing and rebalancing Britain’s economy. So our fourth principle is that the railway must continue to drive economic growth.

Fifthly, we bring people together, and strengthen communities – ensuring towns and cities across the country get the maximum benefit from a vibrant, growing railway.

The railways link us together, and not just physically. The railway reaches deep into our shared memories and shared culture, from our first time on a train, to our visits to friends and family, to trips to the seaside, to seeing new cities, to the romance of the railway station.  The railway belongs to us all, and each of us has a little bit of the railway in our souls. If you don’t believe me, imagine how you would feel if some malign hand removed the railway from the land, and how much we would miss it.

The railway must be more responsive to, and designed around, the needs and aspirations of the communities it serves.

So number five is our wish to strengthen communities with a modern, efficient railway responsive to local needs.

And last but not least, number six – reform must enable those that work on the railway to have long-term, fulfilling careers, equipped with the skills to respond to future needs, sharing the success with everyone working in the railway.

In our outcomes from the Williams Review is our desire to inspire. We want to inspire our people – everyone working in rail – to feel a sense of fulfilment and belonging. We want to develop challenging and rewarding career paths, to attract the brightest and the best talent from diverse backgrounds, and to continue to create apprenticeships and jobs in every part of the country.
Six outcomes – putting customers first, clear lines of accountability, value for money, driving economic growth, stronger communities, and inspiring our workforce.

We consider these to be the right priorities for a modern railway.

The right approach for the generations to come.

But let me flash one warning signal.

Despite the passions the railway stokes up, the Williams Review must be anchored in facts and in evidence.

The railway – majestic, historic, at times frustrating but always in our hearts – is too important to our national success for any other approach to be taken.

And we can’t simply wait for the Review to fix everything. As an industry, we are already beginning to address some of the key challenges. Network Rail is making its own changes under a new Chief Executive and these should be encouraged.

And we are proposing changes to the bewildering system of fares and ticketing, which would have baffled the boffins at Bletchley.
A set of regulations, designed to help the customer, has had the perverse effect of creating a monster. There are 55 million different fares on our railway!

The RDG’s fares review over the summer, with almost 20,000 responses to our consultation, gives us a real impetus for change.

It’s just one example of how we are reforming and improving what we do, as outlined in our plan ‘In Partnership for Britain’s Prosperity’.

Our fares consultation was a huge exercise in public engagement, and you will not be surprised to hear that 8 out of 10 wanted the current system of fares to be reformed. People told us they want a system they can trust. A system that is easy to navigate. They also want variety and a system which meets their needs, based on the different kinds of journey that passengers make. People know there must be trade-offs, but they also know things can be much better. And we will soon publish our proposals for change in this area.

We can only go so far in the current system for running the railway. This is the right time for a root-and-branch review. It feels like a pivotal moment in so many ways, from the immediate changes that Brexit will deliver for the country, to the longer-term shifts in our culture, economy and technology.

So, let us welcome the Williams Review, work with it, and argue our case for a reformed partnership railway. Because, by looking at the whole railway – including the roles of government and, indeed my organisation the Rail Delivery Group, the review presents a once in a generation opportunity. Let’s seize it, by engaging in a way that gives the review every chance of success.

Then, the outcomes will turbo-charge reform on the railway. No more sticking plasters. The step-change we need.

Finally let’s not lose sight of one vital truth: and that’s that we all want the same thing: a high-performing, cohesive, value for money railway, today, tomorrow and into the decades ahead.

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