Saturday, 6 December 2014

Invitation to Tender for Northern Rail


News about the Northern Rail refranchise is eagerly awaited. Speculation yes, but here's the rub. Did you hear Julie Mills of the DfT at York on the 19th November say that the Invitations to Tender for Northern and TPE would be issued in December 2014? I thought I did. However (and subject to being proved totally wrong) it has been put to me that if such an ITT were to appear before Easter that would be an achievement. Why? Because in many places, including the Chancellor's autumn statement, very public promises about the demise of Pacers have been made. Yet hitherto the whole assumption of the Northern refranchise (remember the consultation) was that it was about achieving more growth (no longer standstill) for less taxpayer input. That always seemed a conundrum and it becomes sharper if you really intend to scrap Pacers. Whichever of the train leasing companies which is rebuilding one are not fools. There's considerably over 100 two car sets to destroy (if you count the 143/144s ( 92 class 142)). Replacing them, designing a local diesel train from scratch, it all costs money and no-one has yet really cut their teeth on the new diesel idea, although again Julie Mills spoke glowingly about it. The government are probably pretty pleased they have relet the East Coast (with expectations which raise some eyebrows). Northern is a whole different can of worms. A vast array of expectations have been raised, even Northumberland says it is pledging money to the Ashington Blyth and Tyne, which will need trains. Perhaps the mandarins are now stressing over the answers? Let a new government worry?

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Autumn Statement 2014

Naughtie v Balls Radio 4 c0745. Quite a decisive interview. Naughtie got out of Balls that the chancellor is de facto exactly where Darling planned to be if he had been chancellor. The reason: Britain cannot afford to be Britain. Austerity, the wage squeeze, cost of living crisis equals even with some growth not enough revenue to balance the books. Borrowing is at an historical low for cost; it rises and disaster looms again. Balls was perfectly competent on the cost of austerity, less happy to admit that the result is no different to where Labour would have got. Both the two political parties are caught. Balls could not explain how or why more borrowing can be funded. Osborne's hopes to eliminate the deficit with more growth AND CUTS require some pretty impressive assumptions (as do his tax cutting hopes). Do I have any bright ideas? Sadly no. History suggests complex societies are not guaranteed a bright future unless they crack sustainability. Just possibly (and it explains Osborne's interest) the Northern Powerhouse offers something. A resource broadly the size of London, if not bigger, ought to achieve the economic result of London. It does not and if it did perhaps we could all be more optimistic? A Northern Powerhouse will have to function with strong 21st century communications and so every Pacer needs to go for scrap and wires need to appear through the Tyne Valley.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

The Bishop of Liverpool and Christmas Cards

An Anglican bishop has got me out of bed this morning! Since he has had his rant in the Daily Telegraph, I will have mine. E Xmas greetings is the subject. I think all the Bishop achieves is to show how hopelessly out of date and ignorant he, and those who are like him in the Anglican church, are. 500 years ago he would have been saying the only proper way to communicate is with a vellum manuscript. In an age (and a day) where the PO announced the possible end of universal delivery, the seachange in communications has to be embraced. I love paper but it is immensely wasteful of time, resource and cost. With Christmas cards, which to my mind represent an over commercialised expression of sentiment of even less use than a railway timetable, it seems to me they would be the last area where a community leader would seek to justify allocating his time and money to processing 60 of the things a day between now and Christmas. His total is some 600. If an institution wished to proclaim how completely out of touch it is, I cannot think of a better move. I road tested this with my 14 yo daughter and she thought he was barking. Does anyone seriously imagine Jesus of Nazareth preferring stone tablets as a mean of proclaiming the gospel! A samidzat would be his style (the cheapest and most effective means of radical communication at any given time). And yes nothing is perfect, and Facebook's management must be responsible for supporting terrorism if they don't act. Libertarianism cannot work if it is a total free for all. Finally if you are a Facebook friend it is very unlikely you will get a posted printed Christmas card from me. I hope to create an appropriate e greeting. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/11253604/Twitter-and-Facebook-threaten-spirit-of-Christmas-warns-bishop.html .

Thursday, 20 November 2014

A better railway for the North York 19th November 2014



Track back in my blog to 2010 and I was attending events about rail development in which the North East was being left behind. It has been a regular thread thereafter. Since then my drift has been that whilst the Northern franchise has in fact experienced growth on a standstill basis, for all the talk of devolution and rail spend, the North East has not gained much.

The track record of improvements since Sunderland Metro (a double edged sword in 2002) is exactly what? New trains for FTPE, James Cook Memorial Hospital Station, anything else? A lot of talk about re-opening the Blyth and Tyne and the Leamside (which has been lifted meantime).

So I found myself despatched to York last night for an evening event on the theme organised by the Campaign for Better Transport. There were a lot of people, some quite high powered. A senior civil servant Julie Mills stood in for the minister Claire Perry held at Westminster on a three line whip. The head of  Rail North David Brown chief executive of Merseytravel was a speaker. CEO's from Northern and Transpennine were likewise.

Mood music was good, the Twitter feed was lively, but what did we learn? The DfT is willing to work with Rail North as the franchise manager. People accept some new diesel trains are needed. Planning for growth is essential. That was all agreed. A sleugh of schemes in North West England are in train including major electrifications, Colne Skipton will likely re-open. The Todmorden West curve is a good thing. Trams are being built hither and thither in Greater Manchester.

What was in this for the North East? Exactly nothing on the table although today Northumberland County Council does announce it intends to commit £10 a million a year for each of the next three years to Blyth and Tyne re-opening.

The reason why the North East is not high in the pecking order is blindingly obvious. The civil servant said as much. It does not have a strategy, it has some disorganised wish lists. Neither ANEC nor the LEP have managed to set out a comprehensive rail development plan for North East England. No wonder my hopes that the work of Heaton depot forms a mini franchise for the area go no-where fast.

The challenge for our politicans is simple, they have to work together and fast to get up to speed with what is happening elsewhere in the North if we are not to be in the also ran category. Thankfully a good number of people from the North East had travelled. User groups from Morpeth, the Tyne Valley (three of us), Coastliners, a Northern Echo reporter, three local government officers, Alex Nelson of Chester Le Track were there. But not one North East politician I think. So if you want electric trains in the Tyne Valley, an expanded Metro, stations for Washington and Peterlee and Ferryhill, a local service north of Chathill connecting Belford and Berwick regularly to Alnmouth and Morpeth, the Ashington Blyth & Tyne, the end of the Pacer, an Oyster card for the North East, those who are our politicans at county and government levels are really going to have to start working together. Some are, our Guy Opperman MP is energetically pressing the case for rail investment in the North East. What other MPs should I add to that hall of fame? There are some candidates, Ian Lavery, David Anderson, maybe some others? But Nick Brown whose constituency covers Heaton depot. I did hear Nick Forbes leader of Newcastle City is about to join the Rail North board. Craig Johnston and the RMT were at the event (he asked a question in forum) flagwaving for the cause of the investment and the jobs it creates.

Things are changing I think for the right direction, but there is a long long way to go before I feel that what happens in the Humber Mersey axis happens in the York Berwick corridor. Regional Intercity was being touted. Liverpool Manchester going electric cited. Then think of our version Middlesbrough Newcastle with the city of Sunderland between. An hourly Pacer which then trots onto the Tyne Valley where even a Pacer's maximum speed is more than the line can handle.


Sunday, 9 November 2014

Landscape




Writing for Remembrance Sunday 2014
Still quiet subdued colours
Of a November Day.
How did humans choose to end
Their war in November,
My month?
My day is the first
Of this month,
All Saint’s Day
My birthday and Remembrance Sunday
Both remember the many
And not the select few.
My written view
Is that of the many
Moving off to War.
Below me is the railway
Along which many travelled
Never to return.
They made their unknowing
Last Journey.
Up the hill is the track
Of Hadrian’s Wall
Where violent civilised men
Defined a line between
Barbarians and Empire.
A border which my poetic hero
Of borders and living on the other side
W. H. Auden utterly understood,
He who did his best to circumvent
World War Two
But lived through
World War One
And went to the
Sino Japanese and
Spanish Civil Wars.
He who used the Pennine metaphor
To understand the Human Condition.
John Taverner’s “Fragments of a Prayer”
Plays from “Children of Men”
A future fantasy of triumph in defeat
Ever the Christian Story.
Our celebration this
Remembrance Sunday
Is unique.  Two of the church’s
Teenage children will be
Baptised this afternoon.
Jesus Christ will not be defeated.
One of those children is my daughter.
We stare death in the face and live.
That is our Gospel.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Who should run a library?

Last Thursday night in a surrogate role on behalf of my wife Fiona I attended a debate by CILIP North East https://www.facebook.com/CilipNorthEast/posts/727785047276914 . The motion was "This house believes a volunteer run library service is better than no service at all". Four people voted for the motion of whom I was one, fourteen voted against and there was a non voting panel of five. So 23 people had assembled in Newcastle on Tyne to debate this important subject. There's a message there. Now had the motion been "This house believes that any library without a chartered librarian responsible for its provision is no library service at all", I would have voted for it.
Perhaps arrogantly I think there is a ready made answer to the whole issue and it is one that requires the Library profession to make a radical change, certainly those within it engaged in local authority funded libraries. The answer comes out of the experience of the last fifty years of the railway industry, There was an inherent mistake in the opening motion. It was to put the emphasis on the word "volunteer" and not to use the word "professional". In so doing it threw the focus onto job protection, unionism and politics. This is entirely misconceived. For all sorts of clear reasons, the world of public library provision is changing radically just as the railway industry was forced too in the 1960s.
On Thursday night, you could pickup the sense that people felt a library service was only "safe" and "effective" in the hands of paid employees. I would suggest few industries are as safety critical as running a railway. And rafts of legislation and accreditation have arisen at every level on the railway to certify that everyone involved should know what they are doing. That legislation operates not on the basis of paid/volunteer but on the basis, are you a public railway or not? As the public network contracted in the 1960s, a new type of railway appeared. That run by locally based groups, often all or part volunteer led. But such railways were/are not exempt from the operating legislation. It took British Railways something over a decade to get comfortable over this, but to its credit, the entire railway industry, now part privatised and very diverse, has.  Quite rightly the core Network today is fully employee led. However volunteers do function even within that in two areas. One is the marketing and promotion of designated Community Railways. The other is in the operation of heritage trains over the main network. These are both complex areas of operation, especially the second, yet the whole panoply of professionalism has been applied. So when a North Yorkshire Moors train runs over Network Rail to Whitby and Battersby, considerable volunteer input is involved, but every function is fully professionally accredited. The interworking of Network and heritage operations occurs in several places throughout the UK. It has done so since the Bluebell Railway and British Railways shared Horsted Keynes station from 1960. It happens regularly at Grosmont, Sheringham, Swanage to mention a few.
Beyond the interworking of the Network and the heritage sectors, there is a now vast area of independent heritage railway operations unconnected to the Network. Some random examples, the Snowdon Mountain Railway (never a part of British Rail), the South Tynedale Railway at Alston, the lengthy and wholly isolated Llangollen Railway running from there to Corwen. The list would bore you. All of these are regarded as statutory railways, just as there are statutory libraries. They all have to perform professionally and they all are subject to exactly the same HSE inspections as the main Network.Had this change not been made,a very considerable number of communities in Britain would have no rail service at all. I name a few CONNECTED to the national network thereby: Dartmouth, Swanage, Minehead, Grantown on Spey, Pickering, Haworth, Rawtenstall, Holt, Bridgnorth and Bewdley.
Over 60 years, this partnership, has first been created and then made to work in one of the most safety conscious of British industries. It is very rare on the railway network, you hear people second besting the employee and the volunteer, they are all professionals. That is the lesson that Britain's Library profession will have to learn now in the 21st century, if it is not to become a dinosaur.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Greater Manchester

In 1986 my first curatorial job was abolished by Mrs Thatcher. It was with West Yorkshire Metropolitan County Council. I profoundly disagreed with her policy then. Much of my life since then has been spent under the shadow of how to progress the Northern cities. Today the governing coalition is cementing a major step in writing that wrong. All credit to Greater Manchester for achieving this. The problem for me is that Prudhoe borders Tyne & Wear. TW was always too small and too full of Newcastle and Sunderland warring. Steps are being taken to rise above this, there is a North East Combined Authority sort of getting into gear. But it does not include Tees Valley and I will suggest until it does it will never have the clout it needs. I will also suggest a city like Glasgow would do well to learn from Manchester rather than hope that a shift to hard left Nationalist politics will resurrect its fortune. http://www.thebusinessdesk.com/northwest/news/687391-massive-moment-as-greater-manchester-agrees-devolution-deal.html?news_section=4148#