A LABOUR proposal to end the ScotRail franchise three years early has been rejected by the Scottish Parliament.
The Abellio contract runs until 2025, but it would be possible to activate a break clause in 2020 and end the franchise in 2022.
The government opposes early termination, but it has permitted performance targets to be ‘waived’ until June next year, to allow time for improvements. It also favours devolution of Network Rail.
Labour had pointed to poor performance and the late arrival of additional trains. The party’s transport spokesman Colin Smyth told MSPs: ‘The long-awaited trains from Hitachi were delivered 10 months late and then they were almost immediately recalled for safety reasons. The so-called iconic refurbished InterCity 125s, which ScotRail said would transform rail travel in Scotland, are being rolled out without having controlled emission tanks fitted. In 2018, the ScotRail franchise is reintroducing on its services trains whose toilets will literally be emptied directly on to the tracks, despite there being a clear agreement not to do that. That shocking practice is as outdated as the 40-year-old trains and shows utter contempt for communities and for staff.’
Members in the chamber also clashed over the reasons for poor performance.
Connectivity minister Paul Wheelhouse asked whether Mr Smyth accepted that ‘data that ScotRail provided before the debate show that, since the start of the current financial year, 63 per cent of the faults have been the responsibility of Network Rail?’
Mr Smyth responded: ‘We could pass the buck, as the minister clearly wants to do. We could talk about the fact that contained in those figures for Network Rail are disruptions caused entirely by extreme weather. They do not show up in the ScotRail figures; they show up in the Network Rail figures. It may be Paul Wheelhouse’s position that we can make the weather better under an SNP devolved Administration—I do not know.’
Liberal Democrat Mike Rumbles said: ‘It seems that the transport secretary would rather blame Network Rail for the failings of the franchise operator. People will be angry that ScotRail is being given an easy ride just because SNP ministers have an intense desire to take control of Network Rail. I noticed that an unnamed Scottish Government spokesperson said: ‘We know performance is not where it should be—that is why ministers can and do hold Abellio ScotRail to account within the terms of the franchise.”
‘Instead of giving a waiver to ScotRail, the Scottish Government should give notice that it will exercise the break clause at the earliest opportunity. When the next franchise contract is drawn up, the lessons of the current debacle should be learned and stronger financial penalties and sanctions for poor performance should be included.’
The motion was lost by 85 votes to 34.
The parties remain divided over the nature of the next ScotRail franchise. Labour wants full renationalisation, while the ruling SNP said it would be seeking a public sector bidder to compete for the next contract.