The Department for Transport bombarded me with several copies of the press release on franchising but that did not make its contents any more coherent.Essentially, apart from speeding up the process on the successful publicly owned East Coast, the whole franchise programme has been delayed, with temporary extensions to most franchises. The most extraordinary bit about this abject failure is the statement that ‘ in order to roll out the programme and stagger future competitions, it will be necessary to exercise a number of contractual extensions with current operators and to negotiate a series of direct awards with current operators’. So much for competition. While in theory Directly Operated Railways will be hanging about in the wings, the private companies have the Department over a barrel. I somewhat suspect that they will be so pleased with this announcement that they will quietly drop the legal bid to get their money back on the failed franchise bids – having their tummy tickled will surely put them in a better mood.
Remember Roger Salmon, the first franchising director – he was castigated for delaying the start of the process, and yet he managed to let the whole railway from scratch in just 18 months. That is why today’s announcement is such a clear indictment of the system. It has become too complex, impossible to manage and the only answer is to scrap the whole thing, let the franchises lapse and bring the lot in-house into a coherent railway.
Of course, announcing the Search and Rescue privatisation, with the prospect of Prince William being out of a job, has grabbed the headlines, so this announcement has attracted little attention. Attention now must turn to Labour – will the party have the courage now to call time on this fiasco or will it retain its obsession with the free market and neoliberal ideology.