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Chris Grayling ‘told officials to postpone revealing a major rail project was delayed’

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling ‘told officials to postpone announcing a major rail project was delayed so he would avoid a grilling from MPs’

  • Network Rail bosses informed him that an electrification scheme was to be late 
  • Leaked memo says Transport Minister said bad news should be delayed for a day
  • Announcement was delayed 24 hours and he avoided grilling from Labour MPs  

Transport secretary Chris Grayling, pictured, has faced a string of scandals and wanted to hold back an announcement on a new rail delay last year, emails have revealed

Under-pressure Transport Secretary Chris Grayling ordered officials to hold-off on announcing delays to a major rail project so he could avoid criticism from MPs, it was revealed today. 

Leaked emails suggest Mr Grayling wanted the announcement to be delayed by 24 hours to dodge a grilling in the Commons.

In January last year Network Rail bosses informed him that a multi-million pound electrification scheme in the North West of England would not be completed on time. 

An email from an unnamed senior official at the Department for Transport said Mr Grayling ‘would prefer the announcement were sooner rather than later but not before the Opposition Day debate on Rail tomorrow.’

They suggested the announcement was ‘best choreographed’ for Thursday, January 11 – and news the line upgrade between Preston and Manchester would be delayed was broken that day.

The Transport Secretary has faced a string of scandals in the past year where critics accused him of ‘gross incompetence’.

He faced calls to resign in February after handing a £13.8million contract to a ferry company with no ships in the event of a No Deal Brexit.

In December he was accused of failing to ‘get a grip’ on the drone crisis that shut down Gatwick Airport for three days as tens of thousands of passengers tried to get away for Christmas.

And he kept his job despite criticism of his handling of the Thameslink and Northern Rail timetable crisis last year, which saw 770 trains a day cancelled, earning him the nickname ‘failing Grayling’ because of the chaos.  

This email leaked to the Yorkshire Post says the SoS - a reference to Mr Grayling - said the announcement should be made soon - 'but not before' a debate in Parliament where he would be grilled by MPs

This email leaked to the Yorkshire Post says the SoS – a reference to Mr Grayling – said the announcement should be made soon – ‘but not before’ a debate in Parliament where he would be grilled by MPs

Famous Chris Grayling bungles 

Banning books for prisoners

The controversial ban on parcels of books being sent to prisoners was condemned as ‘unenlightened’ when then Justice Secretary Chris Grayling introduced it in 2013.

He claimed parcels being sent into prisons had been a vehicle for ‘contraband’ and there were not enough staff to check them all properly.

Mr Grayling insisted prisoners could access books from jail libraries and could purchase more using money earned by working inside.

He was removed as Justice Secretary when the all-Tory government was formed in May this year, with Michael Gove – a former Education Secretary – taking his job.

Seaborne Freight

Mr Grayling’s decision to award Seaborne Freight a contract worth £13.8 million to run services between Ramsgate and Ostend – despite having no ships – attracted widespread criticism.

The DfT’s decision was challenged by Eurotunnel, and on Friday the Government announced it had reached an agreement worth up to £33 million with the Channel Tunnel firm.  

Rail timetable chaos

Mr Grayling faced a vote of no confidence – but survived – over Northern Rail’s chaotic timetable collapse in June. Up to 770 trains were cancelled per day.

He had rejected calls for Northern to be renationalised, although he accepted the situation experienced by passengers was “unacceptable”.

In a later appearance before the Commons Transport Select Committee, he raised eyebrows by insisting: “I don’t run the railways,” and instead blamed Network Rail.

Labour’s transport spokesman Andy McDonald accused Mr Grayling of ‘contempt for the House of Commons’ after the emails were uncovered by the Yorkshire Post.

The emails, which were released under the Freedom of Information Act, show a discussion between senior rail officials on Tuesday, January 9 last year about delays to upgrading the line between Preston and Manchester.

In one, Martin Frobisher, Network Rail’s Route Managing Director in the North West, said he had spoken to Department for Transport officials and described how Mr Grayling wanted the announcement handled.

He wrote: ‘The Secretary of State has asked that we get the announcement out as soon as possible. He doesn’t want a big press release or media event. He wants us to directly brief selected journalists. He wants us to control the story, rather than wait for a leak to the media.’

Labour then held a House of Commons debate about rail franchising and no mention was made of the delay to the electrification scheme.

The announcement was then made on the following day, as Network Rail blamed ‘poor ground conditions’ for pushing the completion of the project from May to Summer 2018.

Further delays meant it was not completed until early this year. The delay led to timetable chaos last May as rail operator Northern was forced to rewrite its timetable at short notice.

Mr 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.’

A Department for Transport spokesman said: ‘The Secretary of State asked for the announcement 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.’

Grayling’s ferry failure: How the cross-channel no-deal Brexit plan descended into farce

The contract with Seaborne Freight to provide extra ferries in the case of a no-deal Brexit was eventually cancelled (pictured is the Port of Ramsgate)

The contract with Seaborne Freight to provide extra ferries in the case of a no-deal Brexit was eventually cancelled (pictured is the Port of Ramsgate)

 Chris Grayling has been widely attacked over his December decision to award ferry contracts to cover the possibility of a no-deal Brexit causing problems at the UK’s borders:

  • December 22: Department for Transport awards contracts worth £108 million to DFDS, Brittany Ferries and Seaborne Freight to lay on additional crossings to ports other than Dover in a no-deal Brexit.
  • December 29; The news is revealed and the DfT says there was no time to put them out to tender.
  • December 30: It is revealed that Seaborne Freight had been given a contract worth £13.8 million but owned no ships.
  • January 2: Mr Grayling defended the decision as ‘supporting new businesses’. He insisted he had checked Seaborne Freight would be able to deliver goods between Kent and Belgium if needed in a no-deal scenario.
  • January 3; It was alleged the firm’s website copied its terms and conditions from a takeaway shop, with a long run of small print that featured a section about ‘placing an order’ that placed an obligation on a customer to check their ‘meal’. It was later deleted.
  • January 9: It was revealed Seaborne would not be ready to begin services until April, missing Brexit day on March 29.
  • February 10: The contract with Seaborne is officially cancelled after it backers, Arklow Shipping, pulled out. The Government says no money changed hands.
  • February 11: Eurotunnel launched a legal case against the DfT over the way the contracts were handed out to ferry firms.
  • March 1: The Government agrees a £33 million deal with Eurotunnel and the firm drops the legal case.