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Tuesday 17th
posted by Richard Bagley in Britain

Heavily subsidised FGW faces no rival bids

MINISTERS faced a growing backlash yesterday over their decision to hand rail privateer First Great Western (FGW) a no-contest extension to its western England and Wales franchise.

Transport union TSSA warned yesterday that the firm is poised to get a green light from ministers to run the contract for another four years from March — amid plans to cut buffet cars and strip managers of their union rights.

Swansea West MP Geraint Davies has tabled an early day motion (798) opposing the deal.

He accused the Tories of rewarding FGW’s “union-bashing” by allowing it to keep the contract uncontested.

“As taxpayers shell out billions for track and stations — and pay through the nose for their tickets — it looks like FGW will cream off profits by cutting services and jobs and also get rewarded by the Tories for some good old-fashioned union bashing,” he said.

“The whole thing stinks.”

The firm is listed among the biggest recipients of taxpayer handouts on the network in annual figures. FGW pocketed a £218 million net subsidy to run the trains in 2013-14 — and is set to profit from another £7 billion in public investment over the next five years.

It has managed to cling on to the routes in part or whole since privatisation despite huge criticism of its performance and overcrowding.

Passengers have mounted fares strikes twice.

New high-speed trains will arrive in 2017 to finally replace 30-year-old British Rail-era Intercity 125s.

But TSSA warns the new Hitachi-built units will come at a price — with no buffet cars and fewer staff.

Union general secretary Manuel Cortes said it was “incredible” that the firm planned to cut staff and derecognise his union given the amount of public cash being ploughed in.

He said: “They are the first rail firm in history to suffer a passengers’ strike and they have increased fares by more than any other firm since privatisation — a staggering 246 per cent on the Paddington to Bristol route.

“And yet this government is granting them a new franchise without any rival firms being allowed to bid.”