Now Great Western franchise is scrapped

31 January 2013

Today the government announced it has scrapped bidding for the Great Western franchise as well as those for Essex Thameside and Thameslink services.

ASLEF’s general secretary Mick Whelan says it is time to end the whole fracas of the franchising system. ‘This is not a problem that can be solved with sticking plasters,’ Mick says. ‘It shows that the whole system is flawed and needs to be replaced.’ Mick calls for a major review charged with coming up with fresh ideas for running the UK’s railways with the objective of establishing an integrated, affordable and accessible public service.

Successive governments have clung to a franchising system that was cobbled together by John Major’s government to satisfy a political dogma that said ‘private is good, public is bad’. ‘It has struggled along, increasingly discredited,’ Mick says. ‘We need to look at alternatives to replace this sick system of franchising.’

He points out that ending it would be at no cost to the taxpayer if existing franchises are allowed to run their course. ‘This is in stark contrast to franchising. The West Coast fiasco cost the taxpayer some £100 million. The cancellation of the Great Western bidding process is estimated to cost taxpayers another £50 million. This is money that could have been used to improve the network, reduce fares and offer more seats.’

Mick says he is appalled at how ministers are tainting the successful and popular railway industry by being directly responsible for ‘one disaster after another’. ‘Their clinging to franchising is lunacy given the mounting evidence of its systemic failings,’ he says.

The taxpayer will be required to compensate the train companies who entered the Great Western bidding process. ‘This is a clear indication that government is concerned with investors at the expense of passengers and taxpayers,’ Mick says. ‘The public demands a rethink.’

The union revealed the result of a national opinion poll at the end of last year which showed that 70% of the public want rail returned to public ownership.

Transport minister Patrick McLoughlin said scrapping these franchise bids ‘mark an important step on the way to restarting the franchising programme’. Mick Whelan says this is ‘ludicrous’. It isn’t restarting it – it is stopping it! Besides, there is no public support for reviving the franchising corpse. We need fresh ideas that can only come from a top to bottom review involving passengers and workers as well as politicians and other interested parties.’

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