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‘Underwhelming’ recommendations from Brown review

The Brown review is “underwhelming”, industry reaction suggests, whilst unions state it is “increasingly hard to justify the point of franchising”.

In response to the publication of the review on the DfT’s franchising programme, conducted by Eurostar chief executive Richard Brown, campaign group Railfuture proposed that to avoid further franchising problems, the Government must go further than simply ‘tweaking’.

Railfuture’s Bruce Williamson said: “To be honest, we're rather underwhelmed by this. The report contains a lot of common sense, but there's nothing particularly radical in there, almost to the point where this report was not needed.

“Whilst we welcome the suggestion that moves should be made to improve local devolution of services, and to put the passengers needs above those of the Treasury, we feel that it's important that this is only the start of the debate. If the Government is serious about making franchising work, it needs to go much further than simply tweaking the existing process. This must be the basis for further discussions with all interested parties, especially passengers.”

TUC general secretary and chair of the Action for Rail campaign Frances O’Grady said: “This report shows how successive models of franchising have failed. However, instead of recognising that privatised rail operators are ill-equipped to provide a sustainable long-term public service, the review concludes that the UK needs more of the same.

“Our current system of corporate welfare – where train operators make a play of bidding for contracts knowing that their future revenue will be underwritten by the taxpayer – sadly looks here to stay.

“With such high costs associated with franchising and so little innovation or investment coming from the private sector, it is increasingly hard to justify the point of franchising.

“Nothing appears to have been learned from the success of the publicly-owned East Coast Mainline, which has re-invested profits back into services. Instead, public rail subsidies will continue to end up in the pockets of shareholders. That is not my idea of putting passengers first and this review is a huge missed opportunity.”

Michael Roberts, chief executive of the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC), said: “This report recognises the successes of Britain’s railways since privatisation, and an improved approach to franchising will build on these achievements. Train companies will now carefully consider the recommendations made. 

“It is important that the bidding programme is restarted and clarity from the Department for Transport on its next steps remains a priority.”

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