RAIL union leaders accused Scottish ministers of hypocrisy yesterday as they handed the Caledonian Sleeper service to scandal-stricken privateers Serco.
The monolithic contractor is set to control the overnight trains from Scotland to London for the next 15 years under an £800 million contract, with a £60m top-up to start as the firm orders in new rolling stock.
First Minister Alex Salmond had previously fuelled hopes for a renationalisation agenda at a Dundee gathering of trade unionists in April, giving a categorical “yes” when asked whether his government backed continued public ownership of the East Coast Main Line.
But those hopes were dashed with yesterday’s announcement, as Transport Minister Keith Brown MSP declared Serco’s bid “reflected the Scottish government’s objectives.”
Meanwhile, Serco’s “delighted” chief executive Rupert Soames declared “a strong track record of providing high quality and efficient rail services.”
He continued: “Serco has a very constructive relationship with many parts of Scottish government and already operates essential public transport and many other services.”
Its services south of the border formerly included a £40m contract monitoring electronically tagged offenders on probation until investigators discovered last year that the firm routinely charged for “monitoring” of those who were either dead or still in prison.
Trade unionists yesterday ridiculed Mr Soames’s claims, with some accusing the Scottish government of hypocrisy.
Rail union TSSA leader Manuel Cortes said: “This decision flies in the face of everything Alex Salmond has been saying about an independent, financially strong Scotland.
“He has taken the contract away from a Aberdeen-based Scots firm and handed it to an English based firm which will be given a £60 million subsidy to build new trains in Spain.
“How does that create any new jobs in his dreamland of an independent Scotland?,” he asked.
Fellow rail union RMT acting general secretary Mick Cash lamented Serco’s “truly shocking track record.”
“The logical option of public ownership was not even looked at,” he said.
“Serco is a company that has a reputation for promising the earth and delivering quite the opposite as it seeks to maximise profits and sweat their assets for every single penny piece.
“Quite frankly, with their appalling list of failures in the UK and globally they should never have even been considered as contenders for the Scottish sleeper service.
The union would fiercely resist any threat to members’ jobs and conditions under the takeover, Mr Cash added.
Train drivers’ union Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan agreed: “We believe in the railway, and the future of the railway in this country, and we believe in building a better railway to build a better Britain.
“But we need quality jobs, not zero-hours contracts, and we need proper terms and conditions for the men and women who drive this vital service,” he said.