SCOTRAIL and Scottish ministers have been accused of hiding how much taxpayers’ money is being spent to keep Scottish trains running after nationalisation.
Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth and ScotRail declined to discuss the amount of taxpayers’ money that was given to rejected ScotRail operator Abellio after nationalisation, or the salaries of key players at the rail operator.
Nationalized ScotRail has confirmed that Dutch state transport company Abellio, which previously ran the franchise, is enjoying continued contracts to support crippled rail services.
Ms Gilruth defended the contracts after the Scottish government announced last year that ScotRail would come under direct state control from April 1, having stripped Abellio of control three years earlier following the continuing outcry driven by service failures and rising taxpayer costs.
The Scottish government is running the services through an independent company after saying the franchise system was ‘no longer fit for purpose’.
But in the past two months Scotland’s railway has descended into chaos with thousands of service cancellations on top of emergency one-third cuts to weekday timetables.
Ms Gilruth confirmed that Abellio still has undisclosed contracts to support services after nationalization through deals that will last up to three years and are estimated to be worth millions.
But she declined to discuss the value of public funds spent on the contracts.
And she and nationalized ScotRail have yet to disclose the salaries, paid from public funds, of chief executive Chris Gibb and chief operating officer Joanne Maguire.
ScotRail have previously rejected demands for their salaries to be disclosed Graham Simpson, the transport spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives, told Ms Gilruth: “It really seems to me that we need full transparency here. So I think that the minister should tell us what these contracts are worth and not hide behind commercial sensibility And while she is thinking about that, could she also commit to telling us what the new CEO and the Director of exploitation are paid for with public money, because we don’t know that either.
Ms Gilruth responded by saying salary information would be released in the coming weeks.
“The member is right on his last point, you don’t know that yet and you should know that,” she said.
“It should be in the public domain.
“I have had assurance from ScotRail on this in relation to these salaries. As for the figures associated with these four Abellio contracts…they are commercially sensitive. I am not in a position to release this information to the Chamber However I am committed to asking my officials and Transport Scotland to continuously review the contracts currently in place to ensure the best value for money to the taxpayer.”
Katy Clark, Scottish Labor MSP for the West of Scotland, asked Ms Gilruth to ‘reconsider some of the questions around privacy’ and give her detailed answers in writing ‘as we are talking about the money of taxpayers and taxpayers”.
The Minister for Transport said that as part of the transition to a public railway, “it was necessary” for Transport Scotland to undertake a review of all existing contracts.
She said: “It has been identified that four existing Abellio contracts would be required to continue with ScotRail Trains Ltd from 1 April this year to ensure consistency of service for passengers and to facilitate a smooth transition.”
A contract to operate a customer service hotline and provide payroll services is expected to run until 2025.
And further deals for replacement bus and taxi services, plus buses between Glasgow Central, Queen Street and Buchanan Street Bus Station are set to run until 2023.
The contracts also involve the management of station rentals.
“It was prudent to postpone a limited number of contacts, whether provided by Abellio or other providers, to maintain ScotRail services from day one of public ownership, and to achieve this continuity of service for passengers and for staff,” Ms Gilruth said. .
“There are only four Abellio contracts from nearly 200 suppliers that remain in place, and three of them have a one-year break clause that will allow competitive alternatives to be considered.
“So the approach taken has been pragmatic. But that’s particularly relevant, I think, if you crucially consider the fourth contract, which secures jobs at the ScotRail service center in Glasgow.”
She added: “I just want to make it clear that none of these contracts are a permanent feature of public ownership. Indeed, to that end I have asked my officials at Transport Scotland to continuously review whether whether or not they offer the best value for money..
“There was a level of anxiety, of course for staff and passengers on the first of April. So… there had to be a level of continuity going forward.”
Abellio was stripped of the ScotRail franchise after a disastrous 2018 winter timetable and the introduction of high-speed trains. The new Class 385 electric trains ushered in months of service cancellations and disruptions, much of it due to staff shortages, in part due to training to cope with new trains and new timetables.
Nicola Sturgeon launched the nationalized ScotRail at Glasgow Queen Street station in April and said making ScotRail public property was a “historic and momentous occasion”.