SNP announces plans to nationalise ScotRail trains – taxpayers issued major warning

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ScotRail, which is currently run by Dutch transport giant Abellio, will be nationalised from March 2022 after the end of the current franchise period which commenced in 2015. It comes after the Scottish Government spent £452m of public funds keeping ScotRail and the Serco owned Caledonian Sleeper afloat due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Scotland’s Transport Secretary Michael Matheson said Scotland’s rail network could no longer remain in private hands because “the current franchising system is no longer fit for purpose”.

Instead, the SNP minister said ScotRail services will be provided by an “arm’s length company” that will be owned and controlled by the Scottish Government.

In a statement to Holyrood, Mr Matheson said: “With the current ScotRail franchise expected to end in March 2022, we need to take decisions about successor arrangements within the current legislative framework.

“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 is in line with our operator of last resort duty.”

Opposition politicians have rang alarm bells over the possible cost to the Scottish taxpayer.

Graham Simpson MSP, the Scottish Conservatives transport representative, 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.”

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

But he stressed: “The SNP have had ample opportunity to rethink how our railways are run and find us a route out of the costly franchise system.

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“Instead, their world-beating system failed to deliver on price, capacity and passenger satisfaction. Now we must wait another year for any real change to happen.

“The Scottish Government could have acted on this much earlier, and it is their repeated failures that have led us to this point.

“They must now guarantee that they can get their act together and deliver a public sector operator that protects staff, delivers excellent value for travellers, and ensures our rail system is a fit-for-purpose, truly world-leading service in the years to come.”

Transport unions including ASLEF and the Transport and Salaried Staff Association have welcomed the decision.


Manuel Cortes, General Secretary of the TSSA union, said: “This announcement is long overdue – much like many ScotRail trains were whilst Abellio was in charge.

“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.” 

Asked about the financial implications of the decision, Mr Matheson said: “In terms of the cost of the new body, that’s a cost which will be made internally within the existing rail budget.

“It will not be an additional cost over and above what we are already investing in rail.”

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He stressed there would be no job losses making clear ScotRail staff would transfer to the new Scottish Government-owned entity, with their terms and conditions protected.

He also said the Government was working on further Emergency Measures Agreements (EMAs) for ScotRail and Caledonian Sleeper franchises from April to September because of the financial impact of the pandemic, with support estimated to cost £173.1 million.

An Abellio ScotRail spokesperson said last night: “Since Abellio was awarded the franchise in 2015, we’ve invested £475 million in new and upgraded trains and transformed Scotland’s railway. 

“Recently, we’ve also been delivering sustained high punctuality, in particular during the pandemic. 

“Our customer satisfaction scores are a testament to the hard work of our 5,200 highly-skilled staff.”

It comes after train services in Wales started being run by a publicly-owned company after a significant fall in passenger numbers during the Covid pandemic. 

Privatisation of the railways in the 1990s was both radical and controversial but a shift in policy is seeing more operators being brought back into public ownership.

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