Franchising costs you millions

26 February 2013

Mick Whelan, ASLEF’s general secretary, reacting to today’s news that the West Coast franchising debacle has already cost the taxpayer over £50 million, asks, ‘How much longer will it take before politicians accept that franchising is a foolish and wasteful way of running our railways?’

And it isn’t just the West Coast. The Great Western franchise has also ended in farce with the entire process scrapped at a cost of millions, along with Essex Thameside and Thameslink. ‘They might have been able to claim ‘individual error’ or ‘an isolated problem’ had it been one franchise that was scrapped. But this is now serial waste. Clearly, the system is unmanageable and railway financing needs to be revisited as a matter of urgency.’

Mick sided with Labour’s shadow transport minister Maria Eagle as she called for politicians ‘stop dodging the blame’. The government is still trying to hide behind its claim that the West Coast problems were caused by a couple of bumbling civil servants. ‘Anyone who believes this thinks Oscar Pistorius has no case to answer,’ Mick says.

Maria Eagle insists, ‘It is time David Cameron took responsibility for the rail franchising fiasco, instead of allowing ministers to hide behind civil servants.

‘It is a disgrace that every politician responsible for the bungled franchise deal has either remained in the cabinet or been promoted to it.’

Margaret Hodge, chairman of Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee, was adamant that that the West Coast franchise failure has already cost the taxpayer £50 million ‘at least’ and says the final cost will be ‘very much larger’ once the costs of delays to investment on the line and the potential knock-on effect on other franchise competitions are factored in.

Meanwhile the government wriggles as it tried to justify a ponderous, complex and wasteful system. It continues to claim that ‘unique and exceptional circumstances’ led to the West Coast failure. ‘In which case,’ Mick argues, ‘how do they explain how the Great Western, Essex Thameside and Thameslink franchises have been halted in a similar manner?’

Mick insists he is not attempting to score political points. ‘I am arguing for a system that puts rail profits into the railways rather than into rich investors’ pockets,’ he says. ‘It is what anyone involved in the railways as an employee, a taxpayer or a passenger would want, and must insist on.’

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