TSSA General Secretary, Manuel Cortes, has said he is disappointed that Grant Shapps has refused his call for other rail franchises to be investigated in the wake of the Southeastern scandal.
Union leader Cortes wrote to Shapps (29 September) calling on the Department for Transport to look at the accounts of all other franchises, particularly GTR (Govia Thameslink Railway), which, like Southeastern, is owned by Govia.
This follows the announcement (Tuesday 28 September) that the Government is taking over London and Southeastern Railway (LSER) from 17 October, following an investigation which identified over £25million of taxpayer money was not declared by LSER.
In his response to Cortes’ letter Shapps writes - ‘At this stage, I have no reason to believe this activity is part of wider-industry practice. My officials will be examining the outcome of the on-going investigation and I will consider what further steps may be appropriate.
The outcome of the investigation is likely to also be a relevant factor in respect of decisions on the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern franchise’.
Commenting, Cortes says: “This is a disappointing response from Grant Shapps because he seems not to grasp the seriousness of the situation. I for one am not in the least assured.
“Rather than waiting for the outcome of an investigation into Southeastern, which looks like an almighty rip off of the public, as Transport Secretary he should order his Department to open the books of other franchises.
“The most pressing need for this is at GTR (Govia Thameslink Railway), which like Southeastern is owned by Govia. It should be blindingly obvious that if there’s the slightest chance of similar behaviour happening across the industry it must be rooted out.
“We have been given no idea how long the investigation into Southeastern is likely to last. With that in mind I again urge the Transport Secretary and his officials to act, rather than sit on their hands.”
The full letter from Grant Shapps to Manuel Cortes follows -
05 October 2021
Thank you for your letter of 29 September, about the London and South Eastern Railway (LSER) franchise.
As set out on Tuesday 28 September, officials identified evidence that since October 2014 LSER has not declared over £25 million of historic taxpayer funding which should have been returned.
As you will be aware, the existing LSER franchise agreement expires on 17 October 2021. On the basis of the available evidence, we consider a significant breach of the good faith obligation to have occurred and my Department will therefore not be entering into a further contract with LSER.
The Government believes it is essential that there is public trust in operators, who should prioritise the very best for passengers. Given the Government’s commitment to protecting taxpayers’ interests, this decision makes clear we will hold private sector operators to the highest standards, and take swift, effective and meaningful action against those who fall short.
This is a position with which I am sure you and your members will concur. The decisive action we have taken illustrates the complexity and seriousness of the issues identified by the Department.
At this stage, I have no reason to believe this activity is part of wider-industry practice. My officials will be examining the outcome of the on-going investigation and I will consider what further steps may be appropriate.
The outcome of the investigation is likely to also be a relevant factor in respect of decisions on the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern franchise.
The Operator of Last Resort is always available if required in accordance with my statutory obligations.
It was through the diligent work of officials that this issue was identified and over £25 million owed to taxpayers was recovered. The Department will fully consider any lessons as part of its review into the matter.
I am sure you appreciate that it would not be appropriate for the Department to comment on any possible investigation by the Serious Fraud Office. Thank you again for your letter and for raising your concerns with me. I hope this information is helpful.
The full letter from Manuel Cortes to Grant Shapps (29 September) follows -
I’m writing to you about the abrupt end to the Southeastern/London and South Eastern Railway (LSER) franchise and further concerns our union has relating to the parent company - Govia.
I’m sure you will agree that what has happened at Southeastern is nothing short of a major scandal. Lessons need to be learned, but the travelling public will also rightly demand answers as to how £25 million of public funding seemingly went undeclared, amounting to a significant breach of the franchise agreement.
As you will know, Govia continues to run another franchise – namely GTR.
I’m writing to ask whether you will be carrying out investigations into the accounts relating to all franchises and in particular, the other one held by Govia. Due diligence, transparency and public confidence demands that the Department for Transport does this with some haste.
I have not the slightest doubt that, just like our union, you will wish to make sure that every single penny of public money is accounted for across the board in every franchise.
There have been claims and media reports that the Serious Fraud Office is now involved in this debacle. Fraud has no place in the public sphere, and I urge you to act without delay.
TSSA General Secretary