The government’s Public Accounts Committee has written a damning report that labels the Department for Transport’s management of two of its ‘most important’ rail franchises as “completely inadequate”.
The report – Rail franchising in the UK – points specifically to the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern franchise, saying passengers “have suffered an appalling level of delays and cancellations since the franchise started in 2014”.
MPs on the committee say passengers’ misery is the result of failures by the DfT, Network Rail and Govia Thameslink, which operates the franchise.
They claim the DfT overlooked the “poor condition” of the infrastructure on the franchise and was “ambivalent” about the threat of industrial action – something the franchise has been plagued with since 2015 as unions protest proposals to change the role of train guards.
An earlier report by the National Audit Office showed that between July 2015 and March 2017, 7.7 per cent of trains on the franchise were cancelled or delayed by more than 30 minutes. That statement also blamed the DfT for failing to consider existing and potential problems on the franchise before contracting it to Govia Thameslink.
The report also criticises the DfT’s decision to allow Stagecoach and Virgin to end their East Coast franchise agreement early over financial concerns. It says the government failed to learn from past franchise failures and allowed the contractors to “promise more” than they could deliver.
MPs say they fear the DfT could allow Virgin and Stagecoach to bid for the franchise again in the future and claim the failure highlights “the broken model of franchising”.
Meg Hillier, MP, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, commented: “The operation of the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern franchise has been a multi-faceted shambles causing untold misery for passengers.
“Meanwhile, the East Coast franchise has failed for a third time because of wildly inaccurate passenger growth forecasts.
“In both cases the government appears to have seen its task as simply to contract out the service, with wholly inadequate consideration given to passengers’ best interests and behaviour.
“This imbalance cannot continue. The franchising model is broken and passengers are paying the price.”
Hillier says the government must conduct a thorough review before awarding future franchises.