THE Scottish Government has decided to keep ScotRail under public control when the present Abellio franchise is terminated using a break point in the contract a year from now.
The franchise is presently being supported under an Emergency Measures Agreement, with costs paid and revenue collected by Transport Scotland in return for a management fee, as in England.
Transport secretary Michael Matheson told MSPs: ‘I have repeatedly stated the current franchising system is no longer fit for purpose. Keith Williams, who led the UK Rail Review process, has also said that ‘franchising cannot continue in the way that it is today’. Yet, there is continued uncertainty about the form and timing of rail reform emerging from the UK Government review process, which is now a year overdue.
‘It is high time that the UK Government listened to our requests to place the future structure of Scottish’s railway in Scotland’s hands. The simplest way to do this is to devolve rail powers.
‘In the meantime, with the current ScotRail franchise expected to end in March 2022, we need to take decisions about successor arrangements within the current legislative framework. We have for some time been considering the full range of options available under that framework for continuing services beyond the franchise expiry.
‘Following a detailed assessment process and given the uncertainty caused by Covid 19, alongside the continuing delays to the UK Government White Paper on rail reform, I have decided that it would not be appropriate to award a franchise agreement to any party at this time, either through a competition or a direct award.
‘That is why I have confirmed that, from the expiry of the current franchise, ScotRail services will be provided in public hands through a company wholly owned and controlled by the Scottish Government. This is in line with our Operator of Last Resort duty.
‘ScotRail staff will transfer to the new Scottish Government owned entity, with their terms and conditions protected.’
The decision has been welcomed by the RMT.
The union’s general secretary Mick Cash said: ‘We have long campaigned for the Scottish Government to utilise its existing powers and take Scotland’s rail passenger services into public ownership and today’s announcement represents a clear victory for this campaign.
‘The Scottish Government has also confirmed today that it is looking to extend the Abellio ScotRail Emergency Measures Agreement until September 2021. Rather than propping up Abellio for any longer, RMT is calling on the Scottish Government to have the Operator of Last Resort in place from September this year.’