There is a big game of bluff going on. The fact that all four bidders in the collapsed Great Western franchise have filed a court case to try to reclaim the money lost in the bidding process does not mean they want to go to court. Quite the opposite. They are merely putting pressure on the Department to cough up.
However, as often is the case with railway companies, they fail to understand the politics. Don’t these companies ever employ experienced Westminster advisers? The government’s case looks watertight. As the BBC’s transport correspondent Richard Westcott points out, bid specification says: ‘Each bidder shall be responsible for all costs, expenses and liabilities incurred by it in connection with the Great Western franchise letting process, whether or not its bid and/or associated negotiations are ultimately successful or the process is subsequently varied in any way or terminated.’ That’s pretty unequivocal.
So are the politics. A word to the companies. Let me tell you guys, that train operators are not actually top of the hit parade of popularity. You would be mistaken to think that because satisfaction ratings are relatively high means that the public will support your action. This action will merely intensify the view that you are just a money-grabbing short-term bunch of rapacious capitalists – or privateers to use Bob Crow’s favourite expression.
And so the Department will hold firm knowing that there is no legal or political reason to give in, and because paying back the bid costs means that it will be open season on any future deals.
So why on earth are the train companies going there? Are they all so desperate to recoup a tawdry few million that they are risking their future relationship with teh Department? All that will happen is that a lot of people including many influential ones will simply wonder whether this daft process of franchising out the whole railway is worth it and ask, yet again, ‘what is franchising for’ So guys, don’t go there. You portray yourselves as businesses ready to take a risk in order to make a profit,but in fact this action just shows that you want easy risk free money. Three out of four of the bids would have been wasted anyway – why on earth should the state reimburse all four!