World Coronavirus sparks overhaul of Britain's historic railway sector
Lancashire expected to be placed under tighter lockdown measures
Lancashire is to be the latest part of the UK to face strict coronavirus lockdown rules - with drastic new curbs being introduced this weekend, Sky News understands. Health Secretary Matt Hancock has told senior MPs from the county that he will announce the clampdown in the morning and the rules will come into force on Saturday.The coronavirus restrictions, similar to those being introduced in North East England, will cover the whole of Lancashire with the exception of two thirds of the seaside resort of Blackpool.
Britain's privatised railway sector that drove the Industrial Revolution and was rescued by the state in March owing to coronavirus-ravaged demand, faces a major overhaul under government plans unveiled Monday.
While UK train services will continue to be run mainly by private companies, the franchising system will be replaced by Emergency Recovery Management Agreements (ERMA) as the virus derails demand, the government said.
New local lockdown rules announced in parts of North West, Midlands and West Yorkshire
Parts of the North West, West Yorkshire and the Midlands have been placed under further localised coronavirus restrictions. The new measures, prompted by a fast rise in COVID-19 cases, have been confirmed by the Department for Health following consultation with local councils and MPs.
The Department for Transport said it would continue to cover losses suffered by private rail operators over the next 18 months, extending a system begun following the start of the virus outbreak in Britain.
"Ministers today ended rail franchising after 24 years as the first step in bringing Britain’s fragmented network back together," the DfT said in a statement.
"The new system will create a simpler, more effective structure and will take shape over the coming months."
The franchising system has been long-criticised by passenger groups, who accuse private companies of charging excessive fares for regularly-delayed train services despite earning large state-subsidies.
Despite long-standing government help, the taxpayer has in recent years been forced to take over several franchises that ran into financial trouble, such as Northern Trains and London North Eastern Railway.
Thousands fined for breaking 'unclear' lockdown rules, MPs warn
Britons are being fined for breaches of coronavirus lockdown regulations that are "unclear and ambiguous", a parliamentary committee has warned. The Joint Committee on Human Rights said it was "unacceptable" that "many thousands" were receiving fixed penalty notices (FPNs) despite evidence the police did not fully understand their powers.It added that the way regulations were being enforced by the police was having a "disproportionate impact" on young men from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.
- 'No longer working' -
With Covid-19 decimating passenger demand, Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Conservative government has already paid out a reported £3.5 billion ($4.5 billion, 3.8 billion euros) to support private rail operators.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps indicated Monday said that the privatised rail model was not working in the current climate, as many commuters choose to work at home and travellers cancel their plans.
"The model of privatisation adopted 25 years ago has seen significant rises in passenger numbers, but this pandemic has proven that it is no longer working," Shapps said.
The new system will keep the best elements of the private sector but add better direction and accountability, he insisted.
And the DfT warned: "Until passenger numbers return, significant taxpayer support will still be needed."
Rail operators will still be paid management fees for running services under the ERMA system -- but these will be lower than under emergency measures that were implemented in March.
10pm pub curfew comes into force in England - this is how the first night went
The first night of a 10pm curfew on pubs and restaurants has passed largely without incident in England - but some venues are warning that the absence of late-night drinkers could put their future into jeopardy. In London, there was a small police presence on the streets of Soho last night, but no problems were reported.Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick joined a patrol in Shoreditch, a fashionable area in the capital's east, to remind the public of the measures they need to follow to stop coronavirus from spreading.
Keith Williams, a former British Airways boss commissioned by the government to review the sector, welcomed the new strategy.
"These new agreements represent the end of the complicated franchising system, demand more from the expertise and skills of the private sector, and ensure passengers return to a more punctual and co-ordinated railway," he said.
However, trade unions slammed the move, which is the first major sector-wide overhaul since the Conservatives privatised British Rail in the mid-1990s.
"This announcement should now force the government's hand and lead them to face up to what has been staring them in the face for the best part of three decades," said Rail, Maritime and Transport union general secretary Mick Cash.
"Public ownership is the only model that works and can steer us through a crisis such as Covid-19," he added.
Lawmaker Tan Dhesi, rail spokesman for the opposition Labour party, argued it was "completely unacceptable" that taxpayers continue to pay "hundreds of millions of pounds" in management fees to private rail companies -- and urged the government to bring all rail services back into public ownership.
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