The surprise announcement that there are only three bidders shortlisted for the controversial East Coast franchise suggests that the Department has been scratching around for bidders. The very fact that the government allowed Eurostar, which it partly owns, to bid, in a joint effort with Keolis (partly owned by SNCF) when earlier it had intimated (through ‘informed’ newspaper articles) that it might block the idea smacks of desperation.
So we have FirstGroup, a company that walked away from a three year extension on Great Western and which clearly massively overbid for the West Coast; Virgin with its chequered record and smelly trains on West Coast; and a partly owned government company. All this because of an ideology that dictates that private is better than public and therefore we need to have entrepreneurial flair so that part of the profits of the railway can be hived off by shareholders rather than all going to taxpayers.
Moreover, because of the ridiculous way the bid process is carried out, we will not be able to see what these various companies are offering until the decision has been made. So, as usual, I ask – ‘What is franchising for?’