The Govia / DfT cover up

01 November 2016

Article from Paul Davies, managing director of a management consultancy, reveals the cosy relationship between Govia Thameslink Railway and the Department for Transport


paul davies

There is undoubtedly a cosy relationship between the Department for Transport and Govia Thameslink railway but perhaps more worrying are the attempts to cover up this unhealthy alliance – now orchestrated at the top of the civil service and including the Cabinet Secretary,Sir Jeremy Heywood, and the government in the form of the minister for the cabinet office, Ben Gummer. We all have an interest in this – because it appears that the government, and the DfT, are using the relationship with GTR to bully the train company’s staff and, as the service deteriorates, to blame the unions to cover up an unhealthy relationship between civil servants and a private company.



I started to unravel this cosy relationship, between Govia and the DfT, over what seemed to be initially a fairly trivial matter – the Independent Penalty Fares Appeals service. Parliament required that if penalty fares were introduced, there should be an independent appeals service. But it turns out that IPFAs is anything but independent – in fact it is run as an integral part of Southeastern Trains – owned, like Southern, by Govia. To cover this up the DfT and its Permanent Secretary Philip Rutnam created a web of false information including the statement that IPFAs was a separate business unit and then ‘an arm’s length subsidiary’. Even though he knew neither statement was true, Philip Rutnam has refused to respond to requests to correct them.

Nick Bisson, then Director for Rail, eventually admitted that every time a penalty fare appeal is turned down,executives of Govia personally benefit financially – with the blessing of the DfT. A DfT official also admitted that if an appeal is upheld, Govia’s executives still benefit financially as the DfT has authorised Govia to charge an ‘administration fee’.

This is when I started to smell ‘something rotten in the state of Denmark’. Ii seemed to be scratching on the surface of a major scandal – if the DfT were prepared to help Govia’s executives make money secretly here – what else was going on?

I started to dig deeper and found that David Brown, chief executive of Govia, on a base salary of £2,160,000, used to be head of London surface transport – and a colleague of Philip Rutnam. I saw that the contract to run Thameslink wasn’t actually a franchise –but a management contract. This meant that Govia could do what it liked but faced no financial risk – it just got paid.



Charles Horton, who had run Southern Trains, and then Southeastern, both among the worst performing train companies for passengers, now runs GTR – which is absolutely the worst performing company. Peter Wilkinson, who worked with Govia to win the GTR contract, is now employed by the DfT – on a salary of £265,000 – to manage that contract which is, clearly, a conflict of interest. Wilkinson then set about insulting the staff to exacerbate an industrial dispute as a way of disguising the appalling service that GTR provide. No one outside the DfT, and civil service, believes Govia should be allowed to run Thameslink – but Rutnam is determined to protect Govia,and Brown and Horton, at all costs.

I got nowhere with my complaints to the DfT, so I wrote to the chief executive of the civil service,John Manzoni. He refused to do anything about the falsehoods authorised by Rutnam,on the grounds that this was government policy on the railways, and that my complaints had already been dealt with. I began to see that there was an active cover up of the unhealthy relationship between GTR and the DfT, which extends to the very top.

I wrote to Sue Gray, director general of propriety and ethics in the civil service, who eventually agreed to investigate if Rutnam had endorsed a falsehood to the Cabinet Office and the public to cover up the cosy relationship. I twice had to formally complain about her prevarication – her repeated failures to report back – with no response. She finally wrote back at the end of July rejecting my complaints without mentioning what the complaints were about! Sue Gray, you might not be surprised to learn, has also been at the DfT – and is a former colleague of Philip Rutnam.

I wrote to Sir Jeremy Heywood complaining about the cosy relationship between Govia and the DfT. I received a letter back, on behalf of Sir Jeremy and Mr Gummer, which denied that my complaints had been suppressed. That letter, though, contained no facts. My complaints were not dealt with, just denied.



What I have uncovered is a cosy relationship and a scandalous cover up which means that Govia and its executives profit unfairly, that Govia is allowed to run an appalling train service regardless of the misery inflicted on passengers and staff, and that senior civil servants believe they can act and behave appallingly, without public accountability. meanwhile the reputation of our railway is being trashed. We should all demand an independent inquiry – so we can lay bare the appalling scandal at the heart of this relationship between Govia and the DfT.

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