Labour ‘can’t scrap ScotRail franchise until 2022’

Passengers at Haymarket Station, Edinburgh. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Passengers at Haymarket Station, Edinburgh. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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LABOUR’s plans to scrap the next ScotRail train operating franchise to allow public sector bids would not be possible until 2022, the Scottish Government said yesterday.

The opposition party has pledged to run a new contest with both public and private sector bidders if it wins next year’s Holyrood election.

Dutch firm Abellio will take over the contract from April, but a Scottish Government spokesman said the earliest it could be cancelled was after seven years.

Labour called for the deal to be postponed pending extra powers over the franchise being devolved under the Smith Commission, but the SNP said it would be costly and disruptive.

Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy said today he wanted to turn the firm which runs nearly all of Scotland’s trains into a “non-profit People’s ScotRail”.

He said a non-profit bid for the franchise could involve passengers and local communities, and see “profits reinvested in better services and cheaper fares, not lining the pockets of shareholders”.

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A party spokesman said the private sector would also continue to be allowed to bid for the contract, which is the Scottish Government’s largest, involving some £250 million a taxpayers’ money a year.

He said there was no guarantee that a non-profit public sector bid would win, but it would be more attractive.

The Scottish Government, which also backs public sector bids for ScotRail, said the power would first have to be devolved with legislation at Westminster, then a new law would also have to be passed by the Scottish Parliament.

A spokesman said: “The [ScotRail] contract contains a break clause which would allow us to deal with any changes in franchising legislation if necessary.

“The ScotRail franchise is being let for ten years, and contains a break option exercisable shortly before the fifth anniversary which, if exercised, will bring the franchise to an end at the expiry of its seventh year, in 2022.

“This two-year period would be essential to ensure there is adequate time for re-tendering, and so passengers don’t suffer as a result of any changes overnight.”