Call for ScotRail deal inquiry after boss sacked

Hoogesteger, left, and ex'transport minister Keith Brown launch the franchise. Picture: Jane Barlow

Hoogesteger, left, and ex'transport minister Keith Brown launch the franchise. Picture: Jane Barlow

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A UNION yesterday called for an inquiry into rail company 
Abellio being awarded a £2.5 billion ScotRail franchise after it was embroiled in a scandal in the Netherlands.

Jeff Hoogesteger, its Scotland-based chief executive, was dismissed because of “irregularities” over the Dutch firm winning a public transport contract.

RMT believes the Scottish Government needs to clearly show that nothing was irregular with the tendering for the ScotRail franchise

Mick Cash, RMT

Mick Cash, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, said it must be “clearly shown there was nothing irregular with the award of the ScotRail franchise to 
Abellio”.

The firm took over the train operator two months ago after winning a ten-year contract last October against four rivals, ­including FirstGroup.

Mr Hoogesteger was fired last Friday along with Timo Huges, chief executive of Dutch state railways NS, which owns Abellio, following Dutch government concern about Abellio winning a contract in Limburg.

NS said Mr Huges made “incorrect and incomplete statements” about the alleged passing of confidential information about the Limburg contract.

Mr Hoogesteger had moved to Edinburgh and worked three days a week from Abellio UK’s new Glasgow head office, reflecting the importance of the ScotRail contract.

Sources said the office move from London was because the franchise was “by far its most ­important endeavour”.

Mr Cash said a “full inquiry” was needed over both Abellio’s involvement in ScotRail and the train franchises it runs in England. It operates Greater Anglia, and Northern in a joint operation with Serco.

In a letter to transport minister Derek Mackay, Mr Cash wrote: “RMT believes it is vital to reassure the public by holding a full inquiry into the letting of the ScotRail contract.”

He said with Mr Hoogesteger removed from office along with his boss, “I am sure you will agree this has to be of major concern to everyone involved”.

Mr Cash said Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem had described NS as having a “poorly developed sense of values and judgment, and limited reflection on the position of the NS in the public transport system in the Netherlands”, and it must undergo a “profound culture change process”.

The RMT leader said: “If the Dutch finance minister believes the whole culture in NS/Abellio is wrong and needs to change, RMT believes the Scottish Government needs to clearly show that nothing was irregular with the tendering for the ScotRail franchise. Only a full public inquiry can do that.”

The Scottish Government has stressed the sackings would have no impact on the franchise.

A spokeswoman said: “There is absolutely no suggestion of any conduct that puts the ScotRail franchise procurement process in doubt.

“Reviews by Audit Scotland and independent auditors have supported and indeed praised the process and the outcome.”

Abellio UK managing director Dominic Booth has said: “The news from NS is very serious for the group.

“However, this does not directly affect the leadership of the franchises we run in the UK.”

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