Rail is again in the headlines but not for the right reasons. That nice Mr Hammond has been defending the fact that Bombardier, our last train maker, has announced redundancies at its Derby factory.
To what extent this was because Thameslink had decided to buy “1200 new trains” from Siemens, according to the FT, is not clear. It’s not even clear how many trains are involved; the Guardian on the same day said 1200 carriages, which is rather different; unless, of course, these are single-carriage trains, which we sometimes have to tolerate on some routes here in the rail-deprived West Country.
Who’s the guilty party?
The FT’s coverage went on to say that “insiders attributed the (Siemens) decision to a procurement process set up by the previous Labour Government” and in a radio interview that day I definitely heard Philip Hammond espouse that view. However he has also flagged`up his concerns about the EU procurement directive,an unequal implementation of which meant that you get German-built trains on German railways and French-built trains on French railways but we’ll get (mostly) German-built Thameslink trains, though some of the components for the latter will be UK-sourced.
Mr Hammond should decide which to blame; although the answer is probably not simple (it rarely is), it’d make better copy if he blamed just one party.
That nice Mr Hammond
By the way, the minister seemed surprised that the level-playing-field concept is not universally accepted throughout Europe. When I worked in the chemical industry, I remember it was often said that some of our European partners (no names, no pack-drill) would always press for the strictest possible regulations on safety, environment etc, knowing that they would be less strictly policed in their own countries, thus giving them a cost advantage. So the concept is not new; if it was a surprise, that justifies my having called him that nice Mr Hammond.
Bombardier: post hoc ergo propter hoc?
The Transport Secretary did, however, point out robustly to a Radio 4 interviewer that the job losses at Bombardier were not totally, or even primarily, caused by the Thameslink decision. And he persisted in his defence even when the interviewer (no names again) pressed him with the traditional “so you are saying that …”, followed by a summary that was totally at variance with what had actually been said. Who’d be a government minister?
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