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Virgin on the ridiculous

3 September 2012

The Government have finally revealed what many in the rail industry already seemed to know: Virgin have lost the lucrative West Coast franchise to First Group.

Virgin

First bid over a billion pounds more than Virgin in their quest to run intercity services between London and Glasgow. They successfully homed in on the Tory-led government?s desire to reduce government subsidy at any cost ? particularly if that cost is borne by staff and passengers.

However, Sir Richard Branson?s comments about ?letting down? taxpayers come a little too rich for most tastes. The ballooning knight?s personal fortune is based offshore, meaning he pays little UK tax on his massive profits. Doubts have been raised about the sustainability of First?s promised payments for the franchise, but if their ridership predictions are met, a smaller proportion of the profit will be retained by them than under the Virgin bid.

Branson is right about one thing though ? that the current bidding system is ?flawed... too costly and uncertain?. The privatisation of rail has resulted in worse conditions for most staff, worse services and higher fares for passengers, and a far worse deal for taxpayers.

Many of us would echo the sentiments of David Sidebottom of Passenger Focus: ?For the passengers making their way from London to Manchester or Glasgow, the important thing is not the name on the side of the train, but the experience of the journey, the availability of staff when you need them and of course, the value for money.?

One TSSA member who will not be sad to see the back of the Branson-Souter regime is Martin Hodges. Virgin dismissed him in January without any disciplinary charges or hearing, reinstated him (on suspension) after TSSA intervention, then sacked him again in July ? once more without charge or hearing.

To add insult to injury, Virgin Trains management revealed confidential personal details about Martin in order to damage his reputation with his colleagues. The whole affair leaves a very bad taste in the mouth and is now in the hands of our solicitors, Morrish.

?While Virgin have treated me with contempt, I do feel bad for my colleagues who have worked hard to make a success of running the West Coast service?, said Martin. ?Working for the railway isn?t about First Group, Virgin or Stagecoach. It?s about the ordinary people, the staff whose commitment and dedication make the difference for the passengers.?

TSSA general secretary, Manuel Cortes, sums it up nicely: ?The privateers come, take their profits and go. The railway staff that TSSA is proud to represent are in it for the long haul. We will be watching First Group?s plans carefully as they set them out, but will expect and require them to put the needs of staff and passengers first and foremost at all times.?

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