Scottish Government ends Abellio ScotRail contract early
Abellio is to be stripped early of its contract to run ScotRail, the transport secretary has announced.
Michael Matheson said that the Dutch company would now cease to operate the Scottish rail franchise in March 2022, three years earlier than scheduled. Abellio has been running the services since 2015.
The Scottish Government has exercised its so-called break clause, allowing it to terminate the deal if the terms of its contract are not met. Matheson said that additional subsidy would not deliver the necessary benefits to passengers, communities, the economy and taxpayers.
The ScotRail network has been beset with punctuality and reliability problems, as well as overcrowding. The Scottish Government issued one remedial notice last December, demanding improvements to service to meet contractual targets, and a second in February.
The news was widely welcomed at Holyrood and led to renewed calls for Scotland’s rail network to be brought into public ownership.
But Dominic Booth, managing director of Abellio UK, said the company was “hugely disappointed” by the decision, which he described as “the wrong choice for Scotland’s railway and its customers”.
Confirming the contract would now end in March 2022, Matheson said: “We are not satisfied that the significant increase in public subsidy that would otherwise be required would generate commensurate benefits for passengers, communities and the economy.”
He said the existing provisions within the franchising agreement would continue as set out in the contract. “There have been both successes and challenges over the first five years of the franchise and we have maintained a good working relationship with Abellio ScotRail throughout that period. I fully expect that this will continue for the remainder of the contract and that they will support us in our ambitious programme of transformation of Scotland’s railways.
“I believe that the decision that I have advised the parliament of today in respect of the ScotRail franchise is the right one for passengers, communities, the economy and for taxpayers.
“It is of course necessary to plan for the future, and future provision of ScotRail services, and I can confirm work has already been undertaken to examine the options open to Scottish ministers after the current contract comes to an end.
“Looking further ahead, I fully expect that changes to the structure of railways, not just in Scotland but across the whole of the UK will take place as a consequence of the UK Rail Review undertaken by Keith Williams. While we await the outcome of the review, I very much hope it will see an end to the present complex and costly franchising system for rail services.”
The decision was welcomed by Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party, which have been calling on the Scottish Government to terminate the contract early.
Scottish Labour’s transport spokesman Colin Smyth said: “For years Scottish Labour have campaigned to end Abellio’s shambolic spell in charge of Scotland’s railway. Twice Scottish Labour have forced votes on Abellio’s control of Scotrail and time and time again we have been voted down by the SNP, ably supported by the Tories.
“We are glad that the SNP have finally swallowed their pride and listened to what Scottish Labour has been calling for.
“What we now must know is if the Scottish Government intend to make a serious public sector bid for control of ScotRail or whether our railways will be flogged off once more to a foreign-based private company, focused only on profit.
“Nothing less than a publicly owned rail system will do to ensure that the people of Scotland can have the cheap, efficient and reliable public transport they deserve.”
Mike Rumbles, the Scottish Liberal Democrats’ transport spokesman, said that any future contract should include more break points so that the Scottish Government could act more quickly on poor performance:
“Passengers are sick to the back teeth of the poor service that has been provided by this company. Overcrowding, endless cancellations, stop-skipping and delays have gone on too long.
“The government must now take action to make sure that there is stronger protection for customers in the future franchise agreement.”
John Finnie of the Scottish Greens said: “The Scottish Government must now ensure that a robust public sector bid is in place so that our railways can be run in the public interest in future, rather than for private profit as now.
“In light of noises coming from down south that the UK Government intends to attack hard-won rail workers’ rights, it’s also vital that Scottish ministers engage with trade unions at every step of the process in developing the next franchise, to ensure workers’ rights are at the heart of future ScotRail services and that there is no attempt to roll out driver-only operation.”
Booth said: “Abellio has invested more than £475million in new and upgraded trains, added 23 per cent more seats for customers and created more than 500 extra jobs in Scotland since the start of the franchise in 2015 - the biggest investment in trains and stations in over 150 years.
“Our offer to Transport Scotland would have delivered an improved service for our customers at a reduced cost to the taxpayer.
“We will remain fully committed to running a safe and reliable service until the end of the contract in 2022. While this decision creates unnecessary uncertainty for more than 5,200 staff and our customers, we will maintain our focus on delivering vital projects for Scotland’s railway and seeing through the delivery of significant customer benefits until 2022.”