UK Government breached agreement with Holyrood over rail fiasco


  By a Newsnet reporter
The UK Government has been accused of breaching its own Memorandum of Understanding over the cancelled West Coast Main Line franchise.
SNP Minister Keith Brown revealed that the decision to cancel the controversial contract was not relayed to the Scottish government prior to its announcement on national media, despite the existence of a formal agreement requiring such information to be communicated.

The SNP has said Westminster’s failure to give the Scottish Government any advance notice of its intention to scrap the award of the franchise is yet another example of how UK Government decisions are bad for Scotland.

It has now emerged that the UK government has breached its own Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) about the need to keep devolved administrations informed on the issues affecting them. 

To quote the MoU (dated March 2010): “the administrations will seek: to alert each other as soon as practicable to relevant developments within their areas of responsibility”.

According to the SNP, Westminster should have honoured the MoU and given the Scottish Government some advance notice of the scrapping of the West Coast Main line franchise, given that Holyrood has significant responsibilities for the rail industry which affects thousands of passengers in and out of Scotland.

SNP MSP Gordon Macdonald said the snub adds “insult to injury” from Westminster.

Mr Macdonald welcomed the commitment from Scottish Transport Minister Keith Brown that the Scottish Government will do everything it can to help minimise any uncertainty and disruption.

Mr Macdonald, a member of the Scottish Parliament’s Infrastructure and Investment Committee, said:

“Not only has Westminster caused this rail fiasco, it has added insult to injury by failing to give the Scottish Government any advance notice of its failures and its intention to scrap the West Coast Main Line franchise.

“This is a completely unacceptable snub – the UK government knows we have locus in this situation as the decision affects thousands of passengers in and out of Scotland, and Holyrood has significant responsibilities for the rail industry.

“Westminster has broken its own Memorandum of Understanding, as I believe that under its terms the UK Transport Secretary should have made the Scottish Government aware of this hugely important issue.

“I am reassured by the commitment from the Scottish Government that it will do all it can with its currently limited powers to minimise the impact of this situation.

“Yet again this demonstrates why decisions affecting Scotland should be made by those 100 per cent elected by the people of Scotland.  This mess demonstrates the farce and shambles of government from Westminster – and no one can seriously doubt that an independent Scotland will be much more efficient at managing rail services in the interests of passengers.

“We need full responsibility not only on this issue, but on all issues affecting Scotland. We cannot trust a Tory-led government with decisions affecting Scotland.”

The UK Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has claimed that the debacle will cost the UK taxpayer £40 million.  However, other estimates put the cost at closer to £100 million.

The original bid winner, Aberdeen based First-Group, has suffered considerable losses after the company’s stock market price plummeted on news that the bidding process was flawed and the award decision had been scrapped. 

The August announcement had sparked a legal challenge from Virgin, which has run the franchise since 1997.

The Scottish government had already warned the Department of Transport that the bidding process was over complex and too costly.  However requests to use another more efficient tendering process for the ScotRail franchise was rejected by the UK department.

Scottish Transport Minister Keith Brown has insisted the Scottish government should be included in any further discussions at the earliest possible opportunity.

He said: “We are very concerned about where this leaves us with the ongoing franchise for the ScotRail bid.

“We’re at a very critical stage in that franchising process and yet we are being told today, or at least hearing on the airwaves, that the process is being suspended.”

Mr Brown insisted: “We cannot wait around to look at a review which takes a number of months. I would like to have early dialogue with the UK government about how we go forward.”

Note: The Memorandum of Understanding between the UK Government and the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (dated March 2010) sets out the principles which underlie relations between them.

It includes the following section:

Communication and Consultation
4. All four administrations are committed to the principle of good communication with each other, and especially where one administration’s work may have some bearing upon the responsibilities of another administration. The primary aim is not to constrain the discretion of any administration but to allow administrations to make representations to each other in sufficient time for those representations to be fully considered.

5. Against this background, and in confidence where necessary (see paragraph 6 below), the administrations will seek: to alert each other as soon as practicable to relevant developments within their areas of responsibility, wherever possible, prior to publication; to give appropriate consideration to the views of the other administrations; and to establish where appropriate arrangements that allow for policies for which responsibility is shared to be drawn up and developed jointly between the administrations.

6. It is recognised that there are certain areas of UK Government action – Budget proposals and national security are two examples – in which, as a matter of pre-existing practice, advance notification did not take place or was very limited. These practices are unaffected by devolution.