National Audit Office slams government over Southern Rail

09 January 2018

Mick Whelan, general secretary of ASLEF, the train drivers’ union, has welcomed the National Audit Office report on the involvement of the Department for Transport into the fiasco of the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern franchise.


‘This damning report clearly holds Chris Grayling and his predecessor, Patrick McLoughlin, to account for their handling of the fiasco on Southern Rail,’ said Mick. ‘On their watch, as the Secretaries of State for Transport, they let the DfT get it wrong. Passengers have suffered, totally unnecessarily, and taxpayers have had to pick up the bill. The company got it totally wrong – with the connivance of the DfT – now we want heads to roll. Starting with Chris Grayling and Peter Wilkinson.’


The report says: ‘The DfT did not seek sufficient assurance that Govia Thameslink would have enough train drivers when it took on the franchise.’


Mick said: ‘Charles Horton, the chief executive, blamed the previous franchisee. But he, like a lot of the senior management, worked for the previous franchisee. So he was, effectively, blaming himself!’


The report says: ‘The DfT accepted Govia Thameslink’s driver only operation plan [but] did not fully evaluate the possible effects on passengers of different scenarios of industrial action before awarding the contract, nor did it ask Govia Thameslink to do so.’


Mick said: ‘The NAO report puts the blame for 18 months of industrial unrest squarely where it belongs – at the door of the DfT and the company, Southern Fail.’


The report says: ‘The DfT contracted GTR to deliver a specific level of increased services despite concerns from Network Rail and GTR that the network could not support the proposed timetables reliably.’


Mick said: ‘The NAO, quite properly, condemns the DfT and the company for promising a timetable they both knew they could never deliver.’


The report says: ‘The DfT recognised that this franchise contract, different from other franchises in that fare revenue was received by the Department rather than the operator, meant GTR may have less incentive to avoid strikes than other operators. Industrial action is also defined in the contract, in common with other rail franchises, as a ‘force majeure’ event, meaning that the operator cannot be held responsible for the resulting poor performance, providing certain conditions are met.’


Mick said; ‘This is what we have said all along, ever since Peter Wilkinson went public at a meeting in Croydon in February 2016. He said he wanted to break the unions and that is what he set out to do. Passengers and taxpayers have paid the price for his complete failure. Now it’s time for him to walk, along wth the Transport Secretaries who backed him…’


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