Analysis: Some people think it’s all over - just wait for injury time
INJURY time victory for Scotland’s railways?
When the Scottish Government published its Rail 2014 consultation document on the future of the railways last November, it was a definite own goal.
Although sectors as heavily reliant on public subsidy as the railways are now facing particular difficulties in a climate of stiff spending cuts, the consultation was nonetheless an especially curious document, almost casually suggesting cuts such as reduced cross-Border trains and local station closures. The UK government was quick to spot a sleeping political defence, and striker George Osborne deftly embarrassed Scottish ministers with the promise of £50 million to invest in new sleeper trains, on the condition that this sum were matched by Holyrood.
Sensing another goal-scoring opportunity, Labour used the threat of station cuts to great effect in the recent local election campaign, especially in Glasgow.
Move forward six months and the Scottish Government rail team has come out fighting. Yesterday’s announcement safeguards existing services and projects such as the Borders Railway, but reaffirms the commitment to increased funding for rail and significant network enhancements such as a rolling programme of electrification.
A separate franchise for the re-invigorated sleeper promises innovation, as does the formation of Community Rail Partnerships, which have worked well in parts of rural England.
But most interesting is that ministers have resisted the temptation to re-let the ScotRail franchise as a short-term contract to get beyond their indicative date for independence in 2016.
Ministers have bowed to consultation responses and the views of MSPs, settling on ten years as the right length for such a complex contract. But with a break clause after five years, just in case.
l Iain Docherty is professor of public policy and governance at Glasgow University
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