Avanti West Coast apologises for ‘free money’ boast

An internal presentation to Avanti West Coast managers which boasted ‘Roll up, roll up, get your free money here!’, when referring to payments from the government, has been followed by an apology from the operator.

Avanti, which is owned by British FirstGroup and Italian Trenitalia, has been under fire because of poor performance, including cancellations which it has blamed on a shortage of drivers.

One slide used in the presentation, which was leaked to Novara Media, explains how Avanti qualifies for performance-related bonuses, even if it scores seven, eight or nine out of ten for ‘compliance’. It continues: ‘And here's the fantastic thing! – if we achieve those figures, they pay us some more money – which is ours to keep – in the form of a performance-based fee!! Sounds too good to be true?! Well on this occasion – it isn't – it's the absolute truth!’.

It was reported that the presentation had been seen by managing director Andy Mellors and other executives, but Avanti said they had not presented the ‘free money’ slides.

Avanti also said it was an isolated incident and did not represent the company’s views. It continued: ‘These slides were an attempt to explain to some of our colleagues how the Service Quality Regime works, but the language used was regrettable.

‘The Service Quality Regime is a robust and independent audit which we take very seriously. It has been demonstrated to hold us to account to drive up standards as we strive to continually improve our customer service.’

AWC was given a new National Rail Contract on 19 September last year, which started on 15 October. This replaced the previous short term contract which had been awarded in March 2023 after Avanti West Coast had been affected by performance problems and high cancellation figures. It was the second short-term contract to be allowed while Avanti recovered. The contract will run for at least three years until 18 October 2026 and possibly up to nine.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: ‘Avanti is one of the worst rail companies in terms of performance and how it treats staff. For senior management to produce a PowerPoint slide bragging about the government paying them public money is a disgrace.

‘The government has the mandate over Avanti and should never have given them a long-term nine-year contract award. The fact the company feels emboldened to boast that they get “free money” is down to the ridiculous system of rail ownership in this country. Ultimately, profit-driven companies who receive huge public subsidies have failed to deliver for railway workers and passengers alike.’

Labour shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh was also critical, saying: ‘This failing operator is taking passengers and taxpayers for fools, while complacent ministers reward them for their failure.

‘Given Avanti West Coast has been propped up with a taxpayer funded bailout of hundreds of millions, these sickening comments are a slap in the face.

‘Ministers need to explain how their performance monitoring regime is so lax that one of the worst performing operators on the network can joke about taking free money from hard-pressed taxpayers.

’And after years of soaring delays and cancellations they need to explain when precisely they will stand up for passengers and strip Avanti of their contract.’

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