Getting Great British Railways on track

Think tank: Institute for Government

Author(s): Dr Matthew Gill

June 11, 2021

This report from UK think tank the Institute for Government is a response to the government’s proposed rail reforms.

The government’s proposed rail reforms lack sufficient detail to guarantee success. This paper is a response to the government’s white paper. The Plan for Rail announced the formation of Great British Railways (GBR), a new arm’s-length body intended to reduce the fragmentation and complexity of the current rail system in Great Britain. But little detail was offered on GBR’s remit, operational freedoms or governance – or on how the transition from the current sprawling network of services will be managed. The proposed move from a franchise model to a contracts-based one requires strong and experienced leadership, and GBR will need to incentivise the new train operators to deliver against government’s wider goals. With many rail lines crossing not just local authority borders but national ones, success will also require close collaboration with local and devolved governments. Reforming a rail network as old and complex as Great Britain’s will raise many implementation challenges. The paper’s key recommendations for addressing these are: Agree long-term strategic aims for the rail industry as a whole, alongside clear and enduring objectives for GBR itself; Recruit leaders for GBR who can effectively convene and work with its many relevant stakeholders; Develop a clear and appropriately phased plan for the transition from the current system; Clarify the scope of GBR’s operational independence and its long term funding arrangements; Maintain public and political confidence in GBR across Great Britain, both during the transition and for the long term.