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Is Scotland on the right track? More or less…

Today saw the publication of “Is Scotland on the right track?”, a new and extensive report authored by Tom Harris of Third Avenue Public Affairs.

Funded by Abellio/ScotRail, the report is an objective analysis of the challenges, weaknesses and successes of the latest ScotRail franchise since its launch in 2015. Abellio invited Tom to write the report drawing on his experience as a railways minister in the last Labour government, and his continued involvement in, and knowledge of, the industry ever since.

From the Message Matters press release announcing the launch of the report:


Former Transport Minister Tom Harris’s review warns government not to “dispense with the benefits of the private sector”

Tom Harris, the former UK Government Transport Minister, has today released a new report on the future of Scotland’s railways – Is Scotland on the right track? The report can be read in full here.

The report is written by Harris and uses new polling research conducted by Mark Diffley Consultancy and Research. The report was commissioned by Abellio, but researched, written and managed independently.

The report is explicitly written from the perspective not of train managers, company operators or politicians, but of the ordinary Scottish railway passenger.

Against a political backdrop of calls for ‘nationalisation’ of the railways, the report’s key findings are:

  • The railway industry has had remarkable success since the end of British Rail, and passenger numbers in Scotland have doubled in the last 15 years alone
  • Franchises have been an essential part of this renaissance by applying private sector disciplines, strategies and flexibility
  • There should be more focus on delivering on passenger priorities, primary amongst which is value for money
  • Government and industry should provide more clarity on the layers of responsibility so that the public knows with whom the fault lies when something goes wrong
  • Network Rail should radically reorganise its own structures on a more localised basis, and this should be piloted in Scotland
  • Full nationalisation is not the only alternative structure to the status quo, but making a radical change on purely ideological grounds would ill serve customers

Tom Harris said:

“When it comes to the railways, bad news is big news and good news is no news.

“Because of that, we’d be forgiven for thinking that our railways are a disaster, but this is manifestly not true. In fact, for the whole of this century we have seen a remarkable railway renaissance.

“Our polling research has shown that the public in general are complimentary about the performance of Scotland’s railways (see notes to editors). However, there are problems, and those problems have led to some politically charged calls for blanket nationalisation.

“The Scottish Government should not ignore this, but also it should not throw the baby out with the bathwater. If it feels the need to change the franchise model, it should consider moving to a concession model where the government shoulders both profit and risk, but the private sector runs the service.

“It would be expensive, childish and counter-productive to dispense with the clear and indisputable benefits of private sector involvement in our railways, without which we would not have experienced the renaissance we have seen.”


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