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Unions’ East Coast ‘privatisation’ challenge quashed in High Court

A judicial review applied for by the main rail unions to challenge the government’s policy on East Coast and the direct award of rail franchises has been quashed by the High Court.

Mrs Justice Patterson quashed the challenge – brought forward by Aslef, RMT and the TSSA – which means the government can go forward with its intended programme of issuing new franchises.

In a statement sent to RTM after Wednesday’s decision, rail minister Stephen Hammond MP said that the decision was a “ringing endorsement” of the franchising programme. He added that it also sends a message out to those “intent on pursuing an ideological argument that has no benefit for passengers”.

But Mick Whelan, general secretary of ASLEF, the train drivers’ union, told RTM: “We went for judicial review because of our concerns over a lack of transparency. In the light of this decision, our fears over not just what is going on, but the way in which it is being handled – the complete lack of transparency in the process – will still be shared by the vast majority of people in this country.”

Mick Cash, RMT acting general secretary, added that the legal battle had only reached the “first stage” and the unions would not give up.

Originally, in the rail unions’ application for judicial review, they argued that the government in “its haste to push services back into the private sector” had cut corners, such as breaching its own commitment to proper consultation of stakeholders, including passenger groups and the rail unions over East Coast.

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

At the time, the DfT stated that it would vigorously defend itself against these claims. Following this week’s decision, Hammond added: “This enables us to continue to build a better railway with record levels of investment, faster trains, better punctuality and more pleasant journeys for passengers up and down the country.”

Cash, speaking on behalf of the RMT and TSSA, said: “We believe the DfT’s response to the claim is vague, contradictory and demonstrates that they have misapplied the law, and we are confident that the court will recognise our claim.”

The unions now have the right of appeal and to a hearing, where their challenge will be examined afresh. However, it could take some time for this process to begin.

The government has already invited three companies to tender their franchise bids – Inter City Railways Limited (Stagecoach Transport Holdings Limited and Virgin Holdings Limited); Keolis/Eurostar East Coast Limited (Keolis (UK) Limited and Eurostar International Limited; and East Coast Trains Ltd (First Group plc) – and has published the full franchise specification too.

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email [email protected]

(Image: Rob Enwiki, used here under a Creative Commons licence)


Chris   16/05/2014 at 12:21

When will the Unions start to represent their members and learn the lessons from history. When the railways were nationalised, they lost focus on adapting to the changing market and despite the booming 1950's and early 1960's when Harold MacMillan famously said "you've never had it so good" the railways under political control heamoraged their customer base resulting in mass cuts in services and massive jobs cuts. Since privatisation the railways in Britain have been transformed, focussing on what the customer wants and needs with customer satisfaction far greater than it was under BR, resulting in growth and a massive increase of jobs. Don't go back to the bad old days of nationalisation, losing focus on the customer with the inevitable loss of jobs. Unions, please learn the lessons of history and look after your members interests rather than wasting your energies fighting for nationalisation with the inevitable decline and job cuts it would bring.

Brian   16/05/2014 at 13:52

Nonsense. The Government has more control over the railways now then it every did under British Rail. It is more 'Nationalised' now than it ever was. The investment is coming from the taxpayer, via Network Rail. British Rail lives on, just under a different guise. We have make believe 'private' companies that are effectively backed by DafT.

Pedr   16/05/2014 at 14:36

May I commend having your own Acts of Parliament, then they can't touch you, so long as you observe the safety rules. .

Stephen   16/05/2014 at 17:13

Well said Brian, I have never read such hysterical twaddle as written by Chris. Whilst it is true the Unions can sometimes be accused of being overly protective etc (they are after all only doing what they're supposed to do, get the best deal for their members!"), the overall mantra that BR was wrong and private is right is rubbish. The amount of public money being pumped into the "Private" railway now would have sent BR Managers into a dreamworld. At least they would have invested it in improvements whereas now a large percent goes into Consultants, Accountants, Lawyers and Shareholders. And ultimately all dictated by DafT, who haven't a clue and just spin (in all senses) sublimely on!

Ciarán   19/05/2014 at 15:14

I recently traveled to Newcastle using East Coast and found the journey to be of a high standard and the train spotlessly clean as well as been cleaned on a regular basis throughout the journey. I traveled home via Preston using Virgin, this train was filthy, especially the toilets and the carriage was nothing to write home about either. This government would privatise my granny if they could all for the sake of making their rich mates, richer!

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