he Government will take over the running of Southeastern rail services following a “serious breach” of its franchise agreement, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced on Tuesday.
In a surprise move, Mr Shapps ordered the train company to be taken over by the Government’s Operator of Last Resort after an investigation by the Department for Transport (DfT) found evidence it had not declared more than £25m of taxpaper funding.
The move will take effect from October 18 although the Government stressed the decision would have no impact on services, tickets or fares. Southeastern is the key operator of commuter and regional services in South East London and Kent, and also serves parts of East Sussex.
Mr Shapps said: “There is clear, compelling and serious evidence that LSER have breached the trust that is absolutely fundamental to the success of our railways. When trust is broken, we will act decisively.
“The decision to take control of services makes unequivocally clear that we will not accept anything less from the private sector than a total commitment to their passengers and absolute transparency with taxpayer support.
“Under the new operator, we will prioritise the punctual, reliable services passengers deserve, rebuild trust in this network, and the delivery of the reforms set out in our Plan for Rail – to build a modern railway that meets the needs of a nation.”
In a statement Go-Ahead, the company which has the contract to run Southeastern, said it was “naturally disappointed” by the Government’s decision but acknowledged mistakes had been made. It said it had repaid the £25m identified by the DfT.
“The Board of Go-Ahead regrets to announce that the Department for Transport has chosen to appoint the Operator of Last Resort (OLR) to take over delivery of passenger services on the Southeastern franchise from 18 October 2021, when our existing agreement expires. While the Group is naturally disappointed by this, the decision relates only to Southeastern. Our other rail business, GTR, is not affected.”
The statement added: “Although the independent review is ongoing and the contracts concerned are highly complex, the Group acknowledges that errors have been made in relation to the franchise. The Group has repaid the £25 million referred to in the DfT’s statement of this morning and will provide a detailed update on further liabilities in its full-year results.”
The Go-Ahead Group’s Chairman, Clare Hollingsworth, said: “It has always been this Group’s intention to provide the best possible public transport, and to work in partnership with the Government and related agencies. We recognise that mistakes have been made and we sincerely apologise to the DfT. We are working constructively with the DfT towards a settlement of this matter.”
The RMT rail union called for a full rail nationalisation as Southeastern. General Secretary Mick Lynch said: “This latest public sector rescue of a privately operated rail service should kill off the risky and expensive nonsense of rail privatisation once and for all.
He added: “It’s time to put the rest of Britain’s failing private rail operations out of their misery, cut out the middleman and build a public railway that’s fit for a green, post-Covid future.”
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