We got home from our holidays with no recall to Parliament, although with the situation in Iraq worsening and the repugnant development of apparently British citizens engaged in horrific public acts like beheadings, there is a frantic level of Government activity going on and we will stand by ready for any recall ahead of the official return date of September 1.
Until then I will be working locally, camping in a Devon field, and undertaking the back to school rituals of shoe shopping, pencil case filling and complaining about the unstoppable growth of my children. Just how short can school trousers be before permanent psychological damage sets in?
My ministerial role is keeping me very busy with several new franchises and direct awards up for renegotiation; major infrastructure works being delivered and the annual round of rail fare changes underway. The starting whistle for the latter is the publication of July’s Retail Price Index figures (this year showing a welcome fall to 2.5 per cent), which sets the basis for the following year’s rail fare changes.
There are various formulae set by Government to determine changes for regulated fares (generally season tickets and advance long-distance saver tickets) and a key question is why RPI is used when CPI is lower.
A review is underway on this topic, but in the meantime RPI has been the yardstick for many years and it is also the basis on which cost calculations and contract details are made in the rail industry. The number that is hotly debated is the ‘plus what’ that gets added to RPI.
Last year, for the first time in a decade the Government set the formula as plus nothing, as a way of trying to help hard-pressed working people whose incomes are slowly recovering from recession, and this was done along with tax cuts worth on average £700 a year, frozen council tax, cuts in fuel duty and help with energy bills to add up to an unprecedented package of help – all at a time when we are working to pay off Labour’s great deficit.
I would like to see a similar plus zero for 2015 but fares changes will have to be fair and ensure that the passengers, as well as general taxpayers, contribute to the huge investment we are making in our railways – the biggest since Victorian times.
The best way to grow people’s pay packets is to grow the economy – and investing in our neglected rail (and road) networks is a vital ingredient to make that growth happen.