As the Government pauses the planned electrification of the railways, Labour accuses the Tory's of a cynical vote ploy.
David Cameron’s promise to fund the biggest investment in rail since Victorian times was branded a ‘betrayal’ by the Labour Party - as per the BBC - amid claims that ministers were aware of ‘serious difficulties’ in delivering the project before the election.
The 2015 Conservative election manifesto promised to invest £38 billion in the railway network in the five years to 2019, including plans to ‘electrify the rail lines between the main towns and cities in the north of England’.
The strategy was part of a long-term electoral plan to woo voters in the north with the Chancellor’s vote-grabbing vision of a ‘Northern powerhouse of jobs, investment and prosperity and bright futures’.
Yet just two months shy of the election, Patrick McLoughlin, the transport secretary, announced that the government would ‘pause’ the electrification of the Midland Mainline between Sheffield and London, and the Transpennine line from Manchester to Leeds - as covered by the Guardian - citing spiralling costs and questions over Network Rail's performance.
In 2014 the Office of Rail Regulation criticised Network Rail for the strategic management of its own budget, forecasting an overspend of £122 million for 2014-2015. Earlier this year the regulator also reprimanded Network Rail for missing 11 out of 44 regulated milestones, a figure which has since increased to 30 out of 84 missed targets.
The catalogue of failures raised questions about the organisations ability to deliver on ambitious investment programmes, as well as manage its own projects effectively.
Labour has now called on Cameron to set the record straight on what it knew before the election regarding Network Rail’s ability to deliver the ambitious investment projects.
Michael Dugher, Shadow Transport Secretary, accused the government of 'betraying' voters, in the same BBC report, adding that ‘The public have a right to know if they have been deceived and if members of your government knew for months that these projects would not be delivered as promised.’
The delay in Network Rail’s upgrades is likely to come as a major political embarrassment for the Conservative government, which had vaunted the project as key to re-balancing the UK economy and creating a ‘Northern powerhouse’. The swift replacement of Richard Parry Jones by Sir Peter Hendy as Network Rail Chairman is an indication of how keen the government is to resolve the debacle, whilst buttressing what it can of Osbourne’s pet powerhouse project.
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