Opposition Lib Dems warn NECA and Nexus must be accountable for improvements
Newcastle Lib Dem opposition transport spokesman Cllr Greg Stone has welcomed Newcastle council leader Nick Forbes' call for improved performance of the Metro system and suggestion that new operating arrangements may be needed after 2017, amid growing speculation that DB Regio's contract will not be renewed in 2017.
Cllr Forbes, who is the portfolio holder for transport on the North East Combined Authority, made the comments ahead of Wednesday's city council meeting where the Lib Dem Opposition have tabled a motion calling for performance improvement on Metro, and greater accountability on the part of NECA and Nexus after recent high profile public transport failures.
In addition to ongoing problems with the Metro including problems with the South Shields service and disastrous performance on the day of the last Great North Run, Nexus and NECA's flagship Quality Contracts Scheme proposal for the Tyne and Wear bus system was rejected after it was found to fail several key tests with over £2m and several years of work wasted.
Responding to the news, Cllr Greg Stone commented:
"I am glad to see that Nick Forbes has heeded the Lib Dem motion to council which acknowledges the growing dissatisfaction with the performance of Metro. There is increasing speculation about whether DB Regio will continue to operate the concession beyond 2017 as it has allegedly been making financial losses as it tries to deal with performance problems.A lot of work will be needed to ensure a smooth transition.
"Our Opposition motion also seeks to stress the importance of holding NECA politicians and Nexus to account for their performance in managing public transport in our area. There are big challenges ahead for Metro in terms of securing investment in replacement rolling stock and as seems increasingly likely, a need to plan for new operating arrangements in due course. Equally, those in power need to come up with fresh proposals for the bus sector after the QCS scheme failed, leaving a big hole in the budget for subsidised services.
"Our campaign and pressure from the travelling public seems to have prompted Cllr Forbes to speak out, but he should also be aware that as NECA's transport lead, he is directly responsible for securing performance improvements and he will be judged on his actions and his outcomes, not just warm words. I hope he shares the Opposition's concern about the situation both in terms of Metro and the buses, but also in terms of political oversight of Nexus, which is currently showing far too many "red signals" on its strategic risk assessment.
"We will continue to speak out where we feel Metro is under-performing and make no apology for making criticisms of those responsible for ensuring the public transport system runs reliably - including Nexus, NECA, and ultimately Cllr Forbes himself. Our responsibility is to speak up for disgruntled passengers and taxpayers and that means holding Nexus and NECA to account, whether they like it or not.
Notes to editors
Text of Lib Dem motion below (NB tabled before Cllr Forbes' comments, which should be viewed in this context)
· Widespread public concern at the dissatisfaction and inconvenience caused by ongoing under-performance of the Metro system, including significant delays and missed performance targets
· An increasingly pressing need to identify appropriate delivery models for the replacement of Metro rolling stock after 2022
· The failure of Nexus’s Quality Contracts Scheme, resulting in years of delay to improvements to the local bus network, wasted expenditure of more than £2.8million, and ensuing financial difficulties for NECA’s public transport strategy and delivery of subsidised services and concessionary fares
· The resultant need to rethink Nexus / NECA's bus strategy
· Transport Levy contributions are set to further reduce, diminishing available funding for public transport in the region at a time when there is an acknowledged budget gap
Council further notes that
· Bus Service Operator Grant has not been cut, as had been widely feared, in the Spending Review
· The Buses Bill is expected to go before Parliament during the coming session, potentially offering new possibilities for delivery of bus services
· NECA's Transport Manifesto, whilst unobjectionable, has been widely described as "motherhood and apple pie" and lacks any clear prioritisation or delivery plan
· Nexus is shortly to conduct a fundamental review of public transport strategy influenced by NECA’s Transport Manifesto and by the financial constraints it faces, which is likely to result in cuts to subsidised services
Council endorses the view that:
· the performance of the Metro system has been unsatisfactory and urgent action is needed to improve it, including consideration of retendering the operating franchise
· A significant opportunity to secure real improvements to local bus services has been squandered by the failure to conclude a Voluntary Partnership Agreement with bus operators – which would have led to improved services being in place by now without the loss of public funds arising from the stubborn insistence on pursuing the ill-judged QCS proposals
· Any future proposals for local / regional bus services under the auspices of the Buses Bill should be taken forward in partnership with bus operators in a collegiate rather than confrontational manner
· Any review of public transport strategy by Nexus must be accompanied by a fundamental review of the organisation’s fitness for purpose and the fitness of the relationship between Nexus and NECA
· Urgent action is needed to put in place robust and sustainable plans for the continued operation of Metro beyond 2020
· Oversight of public transport since the abolition of the Tyne & Wear Integrated Transport Authority and its replacement by NECA has been less than satisfactory, and that in hindsight, it would have been preferable to emulate the governance arrangements adopted by Transport for Greater Manchester to ensure more robust scrutiny and policy discussion
· NECA’s lead member for public transport, together with the chief officer for transport and Nexus’s senior management, must take direct personal responsibility and accountability for securing rapid improvements to both buses and Metro”