16th May 2018:
Chris Grayling has announced that the Virgin East Coast franchise will be brought under the control of an ‘Operator of Last Resort’. This came as a shock to most commentators, who had expected the Department for Transport to opt for a ‘non-profit’ management contract with Stagecoach (similar to GTR).
Through a series of misleading leaks to the press and a disgraceful level of obfuscation by Chris Grayling around the Parliamentary announcement, the news was originally reported as straightforward ‘renationalisation’ (ie a political coup for Labour). At the time of writing the picture is still not entirely clear, but it is little wonder that the Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald reacted as he did to the apparent media and Parliamentary ‘set-up’.
Labour’s confusion below is entirely the result of Chris Grayling’s dishonourable behaviour – for the full clash in Parliament, view from 12:52:32.
Andy McDonald was first to raise the alarm, and drew attention on Twitter to the fact that Chris Grayling is in fact beginning a new experiment with ‘public-private partnerships’. The ‘Operator of Last Resort’ function in this case is provided by a group of private companies: Arup, SNC-Lavalin and Ernst and Young.
And it’s little wonder that this essential detail was buried:
- Ernst and Young were criticised by MPs earlier today for their role in the Carillion crisis as part of “a cosy club incapable of providing the degree of independent challenge needed”.
- SNC-Lavalin was hit by a wide-ranging misconduct scandal in 2012, involving alleged corruption and bribery at their Libyan operations. Just two years ago, the company settled with the Canadian government over illegal political donations.
- We note that both SNC-Lavalin and Arup were also key consultants on the Thameslink rolling stock project.
We have now located an FOI request about the contract between these parties for an ‘Operator of Last Resort’. You can view the contract here.
Chris Grayling’s statement on the East Coast
Chris Grayling’s statement is long and includes multiple references to the new ‘public-private partnership’ plan he will be ‘bringing forward’ for the East Coast franchise. You can read the full statement here.
It is now vital that all journalists and MPs go through this statement line by line, and push for the transparency that the government is clearly not willing to provide.
The ‘Bring Back British Rail’ Judicial Review
We draw particular attention to the ongoing legal action by the passenger-led group Bring Back British Rail. As spelt out in their pre-action letter last month, they are currently seeking a Judicial Review over any potential decision by the Transport Secretary to let Stagecoach and Virgin retain their franchise Passports.
Interesting then that Chris Grayling said in his statement today that Stagecoach and Virgin will be allowed to keep their Passports on a ‘provisional’ basis. We have a feeling this won’t be the last we hear of the issue…
For our ‘Recent History of Judicial Reviews’, click here.
To follow the Bring Back British Rail court case, click here.
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