Chris Grayling defends Qatar trip amid anger over rail fare hikes
UK Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has insisted he has not "shirked" the issue of above-inflation rail fare hikes despite taking in a three-day trip to the middle east.
Rail travellers face an average 3.4 per cent increase in ticket costs as they returned to work after the Christmas break today, with many season tickets up by around £100.
Scotrail has put up fares by an average of 3.2 per cent, the biggest rise in five years.
Grayling was accused of "hiding" after it emerged he had departed for a previously unannounced three day charm offensive with ministers and business bosses in the Middle East.
Downing Street was at first unable to explain why he had taken the trip.
But after touching down in Qater yesterday, he told LBC radio: “The fare increase was announced a month ago and I’ve actually done radio interviews about it and answered questions in the House of Commons.
“I don’t think I’ve shirked the issue, but I think it’s really important we get out and try and win business for Britain.
“Today, my presence in the country doesn’t make any difference - I can make a difference trying to help Britain get more jobs."
The Department for Transport later said his planned meetings were to "promote the UK overseas, support British jobs and strengthen the important relationship between the two countries".
A spokesperson added: "This trip has been specifically arranged to take place outside of Parliamentary time. The Secretary of State has repeatedly answered questions on this issue, ever since fare increases were first announced by the industry in August.”
A spokesman for Theresa May meanwhile said Mr Grayling was “working hard and doing a good job” - despite rumours he is in line for the chop in an expected Cabinet reshuffle this month.
Scottish Labour said real terms pay has increased by just 1.8 per cent since January 2013 – but regulated rail fares have increased 12.7 per cent over the same period.
The party's Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity, Colin Smyth, said: “Passengers in this country already pay some of the highest fares in Western Europe and now ticket prices are going up again.
“Rail fares have increased faster than wages over the last five years and that is unacceptable, particularly given the ongoing delays, cancellations and overcrowding rail users experience with ScotRail.
“Scottish Labour would take ScotRail back into public ownership and deliver a people’s railway that puts passengers first.”