Serco losing Sleeper contract presents opportunity for public ownership – MSP

Former Scottish Government minister Fiona Hyslop hinted at a possible future for what she described as an ‘iconic service’.

Serco losing Sleeper contract presents opportunity for public ownership – MSP

The contract with the firm running the Caledonian Sleeper will end in June of next year, the Scottish Government has said, with a senior SNP MSP claiming there is an “opportunity” for public ownership.

Transport minister Jenny Gilruth said in an answer to a parliamentary question that a new contract with Serco – the firm that has run the service for the past seven years – does not represent “value for money to the public”.

The franchise will end on June 25 but it is not clear who will take over the running of the trains, which offer services from as far north as Inverness to London.

Existing services and timetables will continue until the end of the contract.

The Scottish Government this year took over the running of most train services in the country following the end of Abellio’s tenure in charge of ScotRail.

There has been no intimation that the Caledonian Sleeper could also end up in public hands.

But former minister Fiona Hyslop said there is an opportunity to do so.

“It is unfortunate that a deal has not been reached to continue the contract with Serco, but these contracts need to deliver value for money for the Scottish public,” she said in a statement.

“Its termination presents an opportunity for the Scottish Government to consider bringing the iconic service into public hands.

Fiona Hyslop
Former minister Fiona Hyslop said the end of the Serco contract ‘presents another opportunity to bring Scotland’s railways into Scotland’s hands’ (PA)

“There will be a formal process that will need to take place, but this presents another opportunity to bring Scotland’s railways into Scotland’s hands.”

Ms Gilruth said: “I can confirm that today Serco Caledonian Sleepers Limited has been advised that its proposal to rebase the franchise agreement with Scottish ministers for the provision of Caledonian Sleeper rail services has been rejected on the grounds of not representing value for money to the public.

“Additionally, I can confirm that a notice was served today which confirms that the Scottish ministers will terminate the franchise agreement with Serco Caledonian Sleepers Limited on June 25, 2023.

“Work is under way to determine arrangements for the continued provision of Caledonian Sleeper rail services beyond June 25, 2023 and this will be updated to Parliament once determined.

“It is worth noting that Serco Caledonian Sleepers Limited has, broadly, delivered well and significantly improved Caledonian Sleeper services over the last seven years.”

John Whitehurst, the managing director of Serco’s transport business, said the company inherited “unreliable and outdated” trains when it took over the contract, before introducing new rolling stock.

“We note that the Government’s decision not to accept our proposals has not been made due to any performance issues; from Serco’s point of view the service has been loss-making over the life of the contract and the proposals that we made to Transport Scotland were to put it on a more sustainable financial footing,” he added.

“We will continue to work with Transport Scotland around options for the future management of the service and in the meantime will continue to deliver a world-class service for our guests.”

The Scottish Greens voiced their support for bringing the franchise back into public hands, saying: “This would seem to be a logical opportunity to look again at the potential to bring the Caledonian Sleeper operations into public ownership.

“In particular at such a time of acute financial hardship for people up and down the country, and when our climate actions have never been more important, this seems a sensible and progressive idea to be looked at.

“We have already seen a warm and encouraging reception to ScotRail services being brought under public control.

“Improving Scotland’s railways and its connections to the UK and beyond, is vital in both bringing people together and climate proofing our transport services, with people at the very heart of the decision making process.”

Scottish Labour’s transport spokesman Neil Bibby and the Scottish organiser for train drivers union Aslef Kevin Lindsay also urged the Scottish Government to bring the service into public ownership.

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