ScotRail Franchise extension process condemned

Falkirk East MSP Cathy Peattie has again condemned the lack of consultation and information regarding ScotRail Franchise extension. Having previously tabled a member’s motion on the issue, she has now raised her concerns in a debate in the Scottish Parliament.

“There is something to be said for people in positions of power avoiding conflicts of interest, particularly where they might be open to accusations of putting personal gain before the public interest. If they cannot, or do not want to divest themselves of any private financial interest that might have a bearing on decisions that are supposedly being made in the public interest, the very least that they should do is declare their interests and exclude themselves from deliberations. How was it that the finance director of Transport Scotland participated in key meetings to discuss the extension of the ScotRail franchise without declaring his financial interests in First ScotRail’s parent company, FirstGroup? He was then exposed by Audit Scotland, which led to his resignation. Why was he allowed to participate in the first place?

“When the extension was announced, I, and many others, had misgivings. There was no consultation with the public, the workforce or the trade unions. The extension was agreed without assessment or a business case. Those of us with doubts had real difficulty obtaining adequate information about the extension. That was because a lot of the information that we wanted simply was not available. Meanwhile, First ScotRail was on the fast inside track, with signals locked on green and all the barriers raised.

“There was no proper assessment of whether the extension was in the interest of the travelling public—the same people who are about to be hit by further price inflation in the coming year. Many already pay over the odds for their journey. Rail travel often offers little incentive for people to get out of their car and use public transport. I am sure that many members of the public will have their doubts about the extension.

“What was the Scottish Government’s role in all this? The Scottish Government is responsible for the £2.5 billion public subsidy to First ScotRail—and a further £900 million during the three-year extension—the largest contract awarded by the Scottish ministers.

“Was the minister flattered by the suggestion that a presentation to him was somehow more appropriate than public scrutiny? Did he really believe that by allowing the extension in advance of the Audit Scotland report, any criticism contained in it would somehow be made irrelevant? The simple fact is that the Audit Scotland report will be made irrelevant if the ScotRail franchise extension is allowed to proceed without proper scrutiny of not only the contract itself, but the circumstances that allowed it to be extended without such scrutiny. I would call a halt to the franchise extension and instigate an inquiry by the Scottish Parliament. The very least that we should do is insist that the Scottish Government co-operate with any Public Audit Committee investigation and that the minister issues a statement to the Parliament in response to any such investigation.”

Speaking later, Cathy explained that the SNP had backed a Conservative amendment to water down the motion: “The Tories came to the aid of the nationalists again, letting them off the hook. The Scottish Government will however, still need to be very careful how they approach such matters, and be much more open.

“The parliament did agree that the franchise process should in future have the greatest possible transparency, and called on the Minister to bring draft proposals to parliament on how the £73.1 million accrued through the franchise extension will be reinvested, and that there should be close scrutiny of the plans before any further funds are committed.”

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