Thank you to everyone who has contacted me recently about the East Coast mainline franchise.
On February 5th the Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, announced that the East Coast Franchise, currently run by Stagecoach and Virgin, had run out of money and overbid on its contract. He said the Government was ending the current contract early and considering options to put a new successor in place within months. I think it is unacceptable that the Transport Secretary has effectively awarded Stagecoach and Virgin a £2bn taxpayer bailout, as I believe franchise failure should mean forfeit.
In addition, the Government has said it will not restrict Stagecoach from bidding on current and future franchises and that Virgin Trains will continue to run the West Coast partnership.
The Government’s policy is effectively propping up a crumbling system of rail privatisation. Recent figures from the third quarter of 2017-18 showed that Virgin East Coast had its lowest punctuality levels since 2010-11. The Government is currently rewarding failure and it is taxpayers and passengers who are paying the price.
It is unacceptable that we currently pay some of the highest rail fares in Europe for increasingly unreliable and overcrowded services. I believe we should prioritise public service over private profit which is why at the 2017 General Election I stood on a manifesto which pledged to bring our railways back into public ownership, as franchises expire, or through franchise reviews and break clauses. I believe this would deliver real improvements for passengers.
The National Audit Office has announced that it will investigate the Government’s handling of the franchise to date, and is expected to report its findings in spring 2018. In addition, the Commons’ Transport Committee is also holding an inquiry on the failure of the East Coast franchise. Written submissions are being accepted until 26 March 2018.