Minister under fire after ScotRail’s contract compliance waived

A trade union has called on the Transport Secretary to resign after it emerged the Scottish Government will not enforce ScotRail’s contract over the next year.

Michael Matheson has agreed to waive the operator’s performance benchmarks until June 2019.

The Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) said the minister had given ScotRail “carte blanche to fail”.

Scottish Labour said the decision amounts to “moving the goalposts to protect a failing franchise”, but the Scottish Government said ministers can hold the operator to account within the terms of the franchise agreement.

Michael Matheson
Michael Matheson has approved the contract waiver (PA)

ScotRail is required to ensure it maintains certain levels of train operating performance as part of its contract.

Mr Matheson confirmed he has agreed to a temporary waiver on compliance, despite figures published last month showing reliability on ScotRail trains over April to June at their worst level for more than two decades.

Other figures also showed punctuality on train services had worsened, with ScotRail returning its worst figures for the same quarter since 2005/06.

The Transport Secretary said: “The effect of the waiver granted means that the Scottish Government has agreed not to enforce compliance with the contractual Improvement Plan Performance Level and Breach Performance Level for the duration of the waiver period, on the condition that performance does not fall more than 1% below the Improvement Plan Performance Level and Breach Performance Level set out in the contract.”

TSSA leader Manuel Cortes said: “It’s the job of the Government to look after the needs of Scottish taxpayers and hard-working passengers by enforcing the terms of the franchise agreement.

“Instead, Matheson’s waived the franchise performance levels for a year, giving the company carte blanche to fail.

“Minister Matheson should be roasted at Holyrood. The clue is in his job title.

“If he doesn’t want to live up to that job, he should do the decent thing and resign.”

A ScotRail Alliance spokesman said: “Despite recent challenges, ScotRail remains the best performing large operator in the UK. The most recent figures show that more than nine out of 10 trains met their punctuality target over the previous four weeks.

“But we know performance needs to get better and we share the frustrations of our customers when things don’t go according to plan.

“The investment we are making in new and upgraded trains, and our recruitment drive to increase the number of people working on our front-line, will help us to significantly improve the service we provide to our customers.”

Labour MSP Colin Smyth said: “The benchmarks in the franchise are supposed to ensure passengers receive a decent service. ScotRail have been failing to hit these targets for years.

“Now their performance has got so bad they would have breached the franchise agreement had Transport Secretary Michael Matheson not let them ignore their targets.

“This is an insult to the passengers who have to put up with late, overcrowded, overpriced trains and completely undermines the aim of the franchise agreement.”

A spokesman for Mr Matheson: “Labour’s hypocrisy knows no bounds. Most rail cancellations are caused by issues which are the responsibility of Network Rail, which is run by Westminster – but Labour have opposed the devolution of those functions to Holyrood.

“ScotRail’s performance is better than the UK average, but we want and need to see it improve. Ministers can hold Abellio ScotRail to account within the terms of the franchise agreement, including the ability to end the contract if its terms are not met and it is in the public interest to do so – nothing has changed in this regard.”

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