Published: 09:18, 11 October 2021
| Updated: 09:20, 11 October 2021
A major transport union has written to the Transport Minister demanding urgent answers as to its decision to strip Southeastern of its franchise deal to run the bulk of the county's train services.
In a shock announcement at the end of last month, Grant Shapps announced the government was taking the franchise back under its control following its failure to pay £25million of "historic taxpayer funding" and accused it of a "significant breech" of its contract.
As a result, Southeastern, owned by Govia - a joint venture between the Go-Ahead Group and France-headquartered Keolis - is due to formally surrender the franchise on Sunday, October 17 and switch to what is known as an 'operator of last resort' (OLR) - brought into take over from a failed franchise.
Passengers will see little change in the service - previously known as London and South Eastern Railway (LSER) - with all existing tickets purchased remaining valid, and timetables continuing as normal.
However, now the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) has written to Mr Shapps demanding clarity on answers to questions raised by the Department for Transport's (DfT) contracts with the beleaguered train operator.
It says the government needs to be "completely transparent " about what is being done with public money.
It wants to know what raised the DfT's concerns and when it became aware there was a problem, whether the Serious Fraud Office is involved, why was an extension was granted to the franchise as recently as March 2020. As well as whether a similar probe will be conducted into Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern (TSGN) franchises, given the directors are the same as those at the helm of Southeastern.
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said in his letter: "It cannot be right that Govia – the same directors who run LSER – people who are quite clearly and demonstrably unfit people to run any passenger franchises, should be permitted to continue running the biggest one in Britain. I believe that you must now remove Govia from operating TSGN and place it under the tried and trusted operation of the OLR.
“Finally, I would reiterate my call for you to question your faith in the private operation of passenger services. In recent years, we have seen the failure of private operations on the East Coast Mainline, Northern, Southeastern, Scotrail and Transport for Wales.
"The public sector has had to step in and rescue passenger services in each case. Only the blindest ideology can stand in the way of the logical, practical step, which is to bring passenger operations into the public sector once and for all and put a final end to this disastrous experiment.”
As of Sunday, the ownership of Southeastern will transfer from London South Eastern Railway (LSER) to SE Trains Limited - a wholly-owned subsidiary of DfT OLR Holdings Limited, which currently operates the LNER and Northern Trains franchises.
A statement from Southeastern said: "We will continue to be known as Southeastern across our stations and trains. There will be no changes in our day-to-day services, our timetables, or our customer services, as a result of the transfer. Southeastern remain proud to serve passengers and communities across London, Kent and East Sussex and is committed to providing accessible and comfortable journeys for all.
"We want to reassure you that the way you travel with us will not change from October 17. All tickets, railcards and Key cards for travel on Southeastern trains will still be valid for the dates shown. This also includes all season tickets and pre-purchased tickets, including if part of your journey is with another rail company."