ScotRail given 'licence to fail' until June 2019

Rail Unions and Labour have reacted with outrage after Transport minister, Michael Matheson, gave ScotRail a 'temporary waiver' from their contractual performance standards for an entire year.

Questioned by Labour's Transport spokesperson, Colin Smyth, Matheson admitted the Scottish government has "agreed not to enforce compliance" of the contract signed when Dutch rail company Abellio took over ScotRail.

"All of the Performance Levels set out in the Franchise Agreement remain unchanged." said Matheson. "The effect of the waiver granted means that the Scottish Government has agreed not to enforce compliance with the contractual Improvement Plan Performance Level and Breach Performance Level for the duration of the waiver period, on the condition that performance does not fall more than 1% below the Improvement Plan Performance Level and Breach Performance Level set out in the contract." 

The waiver will be in effect until June 2019, allowing ScotRail to continue to miss the minimum standard of service till that date, despite not informing parliament of the decision.

TSSA President Manuel Cortes called for Matheson to step down for "giving the company carte blanche to fail."

“It’s the job of the government to look after the needs of Scottish taxpayers and hard-working passengers by enforcing the terms of the franchise agreement." said Cortes. "Instead Matheson’s waived the franchise performance levels for a year, giving the company carte blanche to fail."

"Minister Matheson should be roasted at Holyrood. The clue is in his job title “Transport Minister”. If he doesn’t want to live up to that job, he should do the decent thing and resign.”

The revelations come on the back of Matheson telling SNP members at conference that the Scottish government has no plans to use the 'break clause' in the contract meaning the next opportunity to bring ScotRail back into public ownership won't be until 2025.

The decision to continue to let ScotRail continue to miss its targets was also condemned by Colin Smyth, who accused the government of "moving the goalposts to protect a failing franchise, and failing franchise model".

“It is shocking that ScotRail have been given licence by Transport Scotland to fail for an entire year."

“The benchmarks in the franchise are supposed to ensure passengers receive a decent service. ScotRail have been failing to hit these targets for years. Now their performance has got so bad they would have breached the franchise agreement had Transport Secretary Michael Matheson not let them ignore their targets."

“This is an insult to the passengers who have to put up with late, overcrowded, overpriced trains and completely undermines the aim of the franchise agreement."

"It is shocking that they are refusing to use the franchise break to bring the contract to an early end and take these services back into public ownership so we can have a rail service that puts passengers first, not profits.”

A spokesperson for ScotRail told The Red Robin: “Despite recent challenges, ScotRail remains the best performing large operator in the UK. The most recent figures show that more than nine out of ten trains met their punctuality target over the previous four weeks."

“But we know performance needs to get better and we share the frustrations of our customers when things don’t go according to plan. The investment we are making in new and upgraded trains, and our recruitment drive to increase the number of people working on our frontline, will help us to significantly improve the service we provide to our customers.”

Update - 13.28 - 12/10/2018:

A spokesperson for Mr. Matheson has hit back at Labour, accusing the party of "hypocrisy" over their criticisms.

“Labour’s hypocrisy knows no bounds. Most rail cancellations are caused by issues which are the responsibility of Network Rail, which is run by Westminster – but Labour have opposed the devolution of those functions to Holyrood." they said.

“ScotRail’s performance is better than the UK average, but we want and need to see it improve. Ministers can hold Abellio ScotRail to account within the terms of the franchise agreement, including the ability to end the contract if its terms are not met and it is in the public interest to do so – nothing has changed in this regard.”

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