ALEX Salmond has been accused of using his final days in power to sell out Scotland, after Dutch rail operator Abellio was awarded the contract to run ScotRail services from April 2015.
Labour leader Johann Lamont claimed the Scottish Government had chosen a deal that was “more expensive” and would lead to “decades old” trains being used.
Earlier this week, Abellio was awarded the contract to take over from Aberdeen-based FirstGroup.
But the First Minister dismissed Ms Lamont’s claim the contract would be “more expensive for Scottish taxpayers than other bidders”, insisting it was “by some distance the best value bid” and saying he was particularly impressed by the commitment to pay the living wage.
During First Minister’s Questions, he cited the opinion of Labour MSP Jenny Marra, who said she was “impressed” and “encouraged” by Abellio’s engagement during the franchise bid.
Ms Lamont accused Mr Salmond of offering “cheap words but not action” by praising the living wage for rail workers and not extending it to all employees under public procurement contracts.
She asked the First Minister: “Is it true that Abellio, who have won the right to run Scotland’s railways, were more expensive for Scottish taxpayers than other bidders, as has been reported in the press. If so, how much more is it going to cost the people of Scotland?”
Mr Salmond said: “No, this is by some distance the best value bid in terms of running Scotland’s railways.”
However, Ms Lamont told MSPs that SNP ministers had failed to get best value for Scottish taxpayers.
She said: “We know price is extremely important. We live in extremely straitened times in terms of public finances and it’s our responsibility to ensure that we get value for money. Not my words, but Keith Brown, transport minister, speaking on 20 March, 2012. He doesn’t seem to have applied the same rules.
“When the government says this deal will involve new rolling stock, can I ask the First Minister this: other than the new trains already promised for the Glasgow to Edinburgh route, when Abellio talk about new trains, do they really mean new rolling stock or do they mean refurbished trains, some of which may be decades old?”
She said Scottish taxpayers’ money “will now go to subsidise the Dutch railway”, adding: “Why is the First Minister spending his last days in office selling out Scotland rather than standing up for Scotland?”
Mr Salmond insisted the deal with Abellio would deliver “improved and enhanced” conditions for passengers and employees.
He said: “Johann Lamont knows this government introduced the living wage to the public sector in Scotland, and therefore have a commitment to extend the living wage not just to the direct railway staff but through the sub-contractors – that’s the cleaning and the catering staff. I think is a substantial enhancement of delivery in Scotland.”