£81.3m fine strengthens case against Southern’s new franchise

The companies behind Southern and Thameslink railways cannot be trusted and should not be given a franchise renewal at the end of March argue campaign groups who helped uncover a massive fares fraud.
JEREMY CLACKSON, transport correspondent, reports

Fraud express: Southern’s owners reckon they will be fined more than £100m

Rail passenger groups Bring Back British Rail and the Association of British Commuters have accused the government of burying a scandalous report on the investigation into Southeastern’s seven-year fraud.

After much delay, the Go-Ahead Group, the operators of Southeastern, has today published its much-delayed 2021 accounts which show that it expects to be fined up to £81.3million for the HS1 dispute on Southeastern.

An additional dispute is ongoing in regards to Southeastern, with exposure of a further £21.3million.

Southeastern services operate out of Charing Cross and Waterloo. Through its subsidiary Govia, Go-Ahead also runs Southern and Thameslink, which provide services through East Croydon through to the south coast and into Victoria and London Bridge.

The passenger-led campaigners recently began a joint legal campaign against the Department for Transport, arguing that Go-Ahead cannot be trusted with another six-year contract for Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern – Britain‟s biggest rail franchise – when its contract expires at the end of next month.

The campaigns’ lawyers allege that the investigation into the Southeastern fraud was subject to an “obvious, profound and unavoidable conflict of interest”, because it was run by its owning groups. Go-Ahead and French-based partners Keolis operate through their subsidiary Govia Ltd, all of whose directors are also on the boards of Govia Thameslink Railway and Southeastern.

Freedom of Information requests have revealed that the DfT does not intend to release this controversial report, nor even the “terms and scope” of the fraud investigation, which were authored by the owning groups themselves.

Two legal letters have now been dispatched, alleging that the events on Southeastern were “in the best case a serious and knowing breach of contract, but at worst a criminal fraud”.

The campaigners’ main demand is for Thameslink and Southern services to be brought into public ownership via the arms-length “Operator of Last Resort”, which has been a proven success on the publicly-owned franchises, LNER and Northern.

Web of deceit: How Go-Ahead have carved up the railways of southern England

“Govia’s record is nothing but a history of deceit and failure, and the Go-Ahead Group should have no further involvement in any aspect of our public transport system,” Bring Back British Rail’s Ellie Harrison said this morning.

“The only solution to this scandal is for Thameslink, Southern and Northern to be brought into public ownership. If we want a transparent and accountable railway, run in the public interest, then we need all our rail franchises returned to public hands.”

And Emily Yates, from the Association of British Commuters, told Inside Croydon: “After seven years of alleged fraud on Southeastern, passengers and taxpayers deserve transparency. However, the Department for Transport is still covering up the results of the fraud investigation – which we know is subject to a huge conflict of interest, being run by the owning groups themselves.

“All of The Go-Ahead Group’s public transport operations are tainted by this, and they simply cannot be trusted.”

Read more: Commuters start legal case to re-nationalise Southern Rail
Read more: Rail operator Govia faces landmark £73m tribunal challenge
Read more: Fraud squad sent in over £25m Southeastern ‘breach of faith’

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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