SLEEPER trains serving Scotland and London are to be run by an outsourcing company which has pledged to spend millions upgrading the service.
But Serco, which will take over the 15-year franchise from next April, was immediately forced to defend its record after unions criticised the firm’s delivery of public service contracts.
It has been accused of overcharging the UK government for tagging prisoners and was caught up in a sex abuse scandal involving an immigration centre. There were also problems with its Northlink ferries serving Orkney and Shetfland.
Rupert Soames, who has been in office as chief executive for just three weeks since leaving Glasgow power company Aggreko, said yesterday: “We will deliver on our promises.”
Serco’s upgrade involves replacing the ageing rolling stock. First-class carriages will feature hotel-style cabins with en suite bathrooms and the trains will offer top-quality Scottish cuisine. Flat beds similar to those installed in the Northlink ferries will be provided in the cheaper accommodation.
Reacting to union concerns, Mr Soames said: “As far as jobs are concerned, we are planning to upgrade the service, not shrink it.”
Serco has also pledged to see out the contract regardless of the outcome of the independence referendum.
Mr Soames was a vocal critic of independence as head of Aggreko, but has decided not to comment further on the subject.
The company said it had no plans to invoke a seven-year break clause in the event of independence.
Scottish transport minister Keith Brown insisted the constitution was “not a material consideration”, but confirmed the break clause had been agreed to take stock of changing economic circumstances.
Rail unions have attacked the decision to take the sleeper out of Scottish hands and give it to an English company with “a truly shocking track record in the delivery of public services”.
Mr Brown said ministers “had no choice”, and insisted the appointment will herald “a new beginning” for the service.
Jamie Ross, business development manager at Serco, said: “Because this is being split out from the main ScotRail franchise, if anything, the total number of people employed will go up.
“There’s a huge push to get local suppliers involved, most obviously in food and drink but also in getting things like Shetland blankets, so benefits flow out much wider than the network.”
Labour’s transport spokesman Mark Griffin expressed concerns that handing the contract to Serco would make it less likely that a not-for-profit rail service could be delivered in Scotland in the future.