Exclusive: Bringing ScotRail into public hands by 2020 would be “hugely ambitious”, says Humza Yousaf

Written by Mark McLaughlin on 20 November 2017 in News

Humza Yousaf confirms ten year contract with Abellio has a break clause which could be activated in 2020 if ScotRail falls below performance targets

A fast-tracked bid to bring ScotRail into public hands by 2020 if the current contract is terminated early would be “hugely ambitious”, the Transport Minister has said.

Humza Yousaf confirmed the ten year contract with Dutch firm Abellio has a break clause which could be activated in 2020 if ScotRail falls below performance targets.

But Abellio, which has been the target of fierce criticism over its performance and “xenophobic” abuse by unions, could also decide to pull the plug early.


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Yousaf said he is confident Abellio will continue to provide a good service until 2025 if it decides to continue, but indicated that there are number of fallback options if the contract is terminated early.

“The 2020 break clause could be Abellio handing back the keys or us taking back the keys,” said Yousaf, in an exclusive interview with Holyrood.

“The contract could be breached and terminated (by the government) if Abellio falls below certain thresholds on performance and financial viability, but at 2020 Abellio could equally hand the keys back themselves.

“If that happens the contract would terminate in 2022 to give us time to get another operator in place.

“But I have to say, having a public sector bidder ready for 2020 would be hugely, hugely ambitious.

“One of the unions said to me ‘do this right, don’t do it rushed’.”

Yousaf is also watching events at Westminster closely, with UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on a permanent election footing with a manifesto pledging to bring UK railways back into public hands.

“We should get a public sector bidder up and running as soon as possible,” said Yousaf.

“We also have arrangements for what you might call an operator of last resort, which is prudent for a government.

“But I am very confident that Abellio will continue to provide a very good service for the remainder of the contract — if that is what they wish to do.”

Yousaf said steering ScotRail from struggling operator which was fined £1.5m for poor performance, to the best performing large train operator in the UK in the space of two years, was his greatest personal achievement in his first year as Transport Minister.

“ScotRail’s performance has really turned a corner and is absolutely going in the right direction,” he told Holyrood.

“I’m incredibly impressed with the new managing director of ScotRail Alliance, Alex Hynes. I think he understands where some of the shortcomings of the organisational structure are, he is very experienced, he knows how to deal with Network Rail, and he’s not adverse to taking advice as well as drawing on his own experience.”

He added: “Some of the attacks on Abellio have been downright disrespectful, bordering on xenophobic.

“I’ve not held back on my criticism of one video by the TSSA which made fun of every Dutch stereotype, which isn’t a good way to make an argument.”

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