The Department for Transport is hiding a scandalous report that could implicate The Go-Ahead Group in an alleged seven-year fraud on their former Southeastern franchise.
It follows the renationalisation of Southeastern in October, when it returned an initial £25 million to the taxpayer. An investigation into the alleged fraud concluded in early December.
As reported in the Times last week, FOI requests from Bring Back British Rail and the Association of British Commuters reveal that the Department for Transport never intends to release this report to the public. We are now challenging their position as part of our joint legal campaign to ‘Take Back Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern’ into public ownership.
Two official legal letters have now been dispatched to the Department for Transport; demanding the publication of this controversial report. We have also warned the government that they will be open to judicial review if they award owning groups, Go-Ahead and Keolis, a further six-year contract for Govia Thameslink Railway when its contract expires at the end of March.
Legal correspondence with the Department for Transport
The first letter argues that no new contract can be awarded to Govia Thameslink Railway without full transparency and robust conclusions regarding the Southeastern fraud investigation. Based on what we know so far, our lawyers consider this to be “in the best case a serious and knowing breach of contract, but at worst a criminal fraud.”
It also presents a full history of the Govia Thameslink Railway contract, which has been widely condemned for operational mismanagement and systemic failure since it began in 2014. We are aware that the DfT is actively considering public ownership for TSGN and have demanded to know: what preparations have been made for a takeover; and whether the Department has conducted any analysis of the value of public ownership compared to renewing the contract with GTR.
The second letter provides a point-by-point rebuttal of the DfT’s responses to our recent FOI requests; in which they refuse to release the report, or even the ‘terms, scope and members’ of the investigation.
Our lawyers refer to the obvious conflict of interest behind the investigation, which was run by the owning groups themselves: “We find it extraordinary that an issue as serious and time sensitive as the determination of the veracity of allegations of fraud within a TOC have been left to the corporate owners. There is an obvious, profound and unavoidable conflict of interest.”
The letter also draws attention to comments in the press from ‘unnamed sources’ that the publicly-owned Operator of Last Resort (OLR) does not have the capacity to take over. We find this claim extremely suspicious and have asked the DfT to settle the matter by explaining in detail the preparations that have been made. We remind the government that £20 million was invested in the OLR in 2019 and that the DfT has previously confirmed these contracts are easily scalable at short notice.
How you can help
Please help by emailing your MP and demanding urgent Parliamentary questions on this matter. Despite plenty of coverage in the financial press, politicians have failed to get active on this issue, and a decision on the Govia Thameslink Railway contract is now imminent.
Donate to the Bring Back British Rail legal fund here. Your donations led to a huge success when the East Coast Main Line was brought into public ownership in 2018 – please help us do the same for TSGN.
Follow Bring Back British Rail and Association of British Commuters for updates, including our first official response from the Department for Transport – due later this week.
For further information, find a full record of the legal correspondence here, and a background to the fraud investigation here. Please direct any inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com