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Unions begin legal action over East Coast ‘privatisation’

The main rail unions have launched an application for judicial review to challenge the government’s policy on East Coast and the direct award of rail franchises. 

The unions – Aslef, RMT and TSSA – have taken the united approach as they have significant concerns that despite the Brown review of rail franchising recommending that the procurement for rail franchise should take place over a minimum of 24 months, the government is “rushing through” the privatisation of East Coast over a 15-month period to be concluded by February 2015.  

Mick Whelan, Aslef general secretary, said: “It is imperative that we raise the genuine concerns of all stakeholders but, especially, the employees before this is rushed through. We cannot, in good conscience, allow the mistakes of the past to happen again.” 

In their application for judicial review, the unions stated that in its haste to push services back into the private sector the government has cut corners, such as breaching its own commitment to proper consultation of stakeholders, including passenger groups and the rail unions. 

Additionally, they are concerned that there is again the risk that “overbidding by private operators and inadequate and rushed evaluation of the bids will, as on previous occasions, lead to cuts to staff and services and even the franchise collapsing again”. 

As part of the judicial review, the government is also being challenged on its decision to make a direct award to First Capital Connect of an extended franchise agreement for the Thameslink and Great Northern franchise. This decision, according to the unions, was made without any tendering process or consideration by the government of whether the interests of their members and passengers would be better served by the service being taken over by Directly Operated Railways, the incumbent state-owned operator of East Coast. 

TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes added: “The Tory-led coalition knows only too well that rail franchising is not fit for purpose. They continue to ignore the recommendations of the Brown review which they commissioned following the West Coast debacle. 

“Rail workers are at a loss to understand why the government insists on going forward with a broken system which threatens the interests of passengers and taxpayers. We can only conclude that the ideology which saw Royal Mail flogged off on the cheap continues to thrive.” 

However, a Department for Transport spokesman said: “We will vigorously defend this claim and remain committed to the franchising programme. As these legal proceedings are ongoing it would not be appropriate to comment further at this stage.” 

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