First Great Western close to losing its franchise
Regular readers will know that I am, on the whole, against privatisation. That of British Railways was done very badly indeed, and has resulted in a huge increase in public expenditure, most of it being drained off to investor’s pockets, not spent to the benefit of the travelling public. But this story shows a feature of the contracting model that is worth noticing.
First Great Western has a really bad record. And now Ruth Kelly, the UK Transport Secretary, is going to do something about it
Transport secretary Ruth Kelly today ordered FGW to buy more carriages, increase passenger compensation payments and hire more staff or else the franchise will be terminated. The Department for Transport found that FGW, voted the worst service in Britain last month, misled passengers by under-reporting the number of service cancellations last year.
She added that instead of fining the franchise, which operates throughout the west country as well as the London-to-Cardiff route, she had imposed an improvements package including higher compensation for commuters affected by endemic punctuality problems.
“Any penalty would be paid to central Government. Having considered this carefully, and given that a penalty would not, itself, help passengers, I have opted instead for passengers to receive a better benefits package,” she said.
Now let’s imagine that Translink had been contracting out the delivery of services, instead of being required to give them to one of its single purpose subsidiary “companies”. And as a passenger you had been subject to pass ups, or cancellations due to staff shortages, or failure to provide an advertised service like bike racks after dark. Don’t you think that this model might have produced more satisfactory outcomes than press releases and soothing platitudes?
If FGW do not deliver what Secretary Kelly has told them to do, they will be booted, and someone else brought in to run the trains who can do a better job. Any chance of that happening here? If the Coast Mountain Bus Company fails to deliver adequate service, there is absolutely no penalty at all. Indeed it is usually made as difficult as possible for an outsider to determine whose responsibility it is to carry the can for many failures. And it is always easy to fall back on “circumstances beyond our control”.
Come to that, given another story in my local freebie this morning, have you ever heard of any of the contractors to Partnerships BC being required to do anything to smarten up? So far, as far as I can see, the fact that they deliver profits on time to their shareholders is all that matters. Clean hospitals? Fines or requirements to make up to those harmed? You must be kidding.