It’s been revealed that transport secretary Chris Grayling asked rail officials to hold off making a public announcement about a delay to a vital infrastructure project until after a parliamentary debate where his department's record was scrutinised by MPs.
In an email obtained by The Yorkshire Post under the Freedom of Information Act, a senior Department for Transport official told rail industry leaders in January last year that Grayling did not want the delay to the Preston to Manchester electrification project in the north west to be made public until after the rail franchising debate led by Labour the following day.
News of the delay to the project, which ultimately led to the botched introduction of a timetable by rail operator Northern four months later, causing widespread chaos across the North, was not revealed publicly until the day after the opposition day debate.
The email reveals that “the [Secretary of State] would prefer the announcement (of the delay to the electrification upgrade project) were sooner rather than later but not before the opposition day debate on Rail tomorrow afternoon / evening.” The email went on to suggest that the announcement was “best choreographed” for Thursday 11 January 2018, the day after the debate in parliament.
The revelations are sure to heap more pressure on the beleaguered transport secretary who is already under mounting pressure following a series of mishaps and gaffs. Labour's shadow transport secretary, Andy McDonald, said: “We all knew of Chris Grayling’s disdain for parliament, but these emails reveal the depth of the transport secretary’s contempt for the House of Commons.
“Grayling denied MPs of all parties full information about delays to nationally significant rail upgrades ahead of an important parliamentary debate on rail. Once again, he’s not being straight with either MPs or the public. Labour will be raising this matter in parliament next week after the Easter recess.”
Responding to The Yorkshire Post’s revelations, a Department for Transport spokeswoman claimed that the secretary of state had asked for the announcement about the delays to be made as soon as possible. “This was done as soon as appropriate clearances were in place - as is reasonable for an announcement of this type,” she said.