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ScotRail to be nationalised as franchise cut short


Rail services will be run by a government agency

ScotRail is to be brought under public ownership after the government confirmed that the current franchise will end early.

Dutch state-owned firm Abellio will stop running services at the end of March next year and will be replaced by an “arms-length” Scottish government company.

Abellio has been running the franchise since 2015 but had its contract ended early amid criticism over cancellations and performance levels. The company laid much of the blame on disruption caused by huge investment in infrastructure. In recent months performance has improved.

Under the change of ownership ScotRail staff will transfer to the new Scottish government-owned entity.

The arrangement is being made under powers which allow the Scottish government to take over the rail franchise without a bidding process.

Michael Matheson

Michael Matheson: ‘stability and certainty’

Transport Secretary Michael Matheson said he was not able to say how long these “operator of last resort” arrangements would last for.

He said: “I have decided that it would not be appropriate to award a franchise agreement to any party at this time, either through a competition or a direct award.

“That is why I have confirmed that, from the expiry of the current franchise, ScotRail services will be provided in public hands through a company wholly owned and controlled by the Scottish government.

“This approach will provide a stable platform for ScotRail services and certainty for passengers and staff.”

Scottish Conservative shadow transport secretary Graham Simpson said: “The SNP Government must be entirely honest about how much this will cost taxpayers and clear about what demonstrable benefits it is expected to bring to passengers.

“While the primary consideration is for Scotland to be served by a modern and efficient rail service, public finances are precious and finite.

“The SNP have presided over decline of our railway, but history tells us that nationalising certain industries is rarely a silver bullet and can in fact turn out to be a costly mistake which is later reversed.

“It is important that this is being motivated by pragmatism not ideology.

“This is the same government that can’t even build a couple of ferries which hardly instils confidence in them having the competence to run a rail service.”  

Scottish Labour transport spokesperson Alex Rowley said: “It is welcome news that the SNP have finally seen the light and decided that nationalisation of our railways is the best way forward. 


“When SNP ministers awarded the contract to Abellio they told us we would have world leading services but for far too many that was not the experience.

“So rail users have been let down and Scotland has been let down in yet another failure from this SNP government. 

“The SNP have had ample opportunity to rethink how our railways are run and find us a route out of the costly franchise system. Instead, their world-beating system failed to deliver on price, capacity and passenger satisfaction.

“It is also disappointing that the SNP plans to keep the Serco Caledonian Sleeper in private hands, rather than bringing that under a publicly-run owner, too.”

TSSA General Secretary Manuel Cortes said: “I’m delighted to see the SNP have finally listened to representations from the TSSA, Scottish Labour, passengers and staff alike and announced the return of ScotRail to the public sector.

“The covid-19 pandemic made it abundantly clear that our railways are a public service, not a piggy bank for fat cat shareholders. And Welsh Labour showed the way when they nationalised the railways earlier this year.”

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