In what one campaign group has today described to Inside Croydon as “outrageous news”, the Department of Transport is close to handing a six-year rail operator’s renewal contract to Govia Thameslink Railway, who run trains through East Croydon, South Croydon and Norwood Junction, despite having evidence of 13 years of corruption at one of their lines, Southeastern, in which they falsely claimed at least £64million in taxpayers money.
A £23.5million penalty notice was published only last week for financial malpractice on Govia’s Southeastern franchise, confirming at least 13 years of systemic malpractice by the operator, going back to the very foundation of the franchise.
Southeastern began by concealing taxpayers’ money in relation to rolling stock payments from 2007, before escalating their behaviour in relation to HS1 payments from 2014.
“There is evidence that this happened with the full knowledge of the company’s auditors and Govia’s directors, all of whom are also on the boards of GTR and Southeastern,” Emily Yates, the co-founder of the Association of British Commuters, said today.
The government then allowed the resulting fraud investigation to be run Govia’s owning groups, Go-Ahead and Keolis, together with their long-standing auditors, Deloitte.
“Outrageously, the government is planning to let their favourite – and most failing – rail company off the hook once again,” Yates said.
“The penalty notice makes clear that they reduced the fine by more than £6million due to the ‘reputational damage’ to Govia after they were exposed for the history of corruption on Southeastern.
“Meanwhile, the real reason the fraud investigation was rushed out last week was to clear the way for a new six-year franchise to be awarded to their other subsidiary, Govia Thameslink Railway.”
Yates calls this “the biggest rail corruption scandal since privatisation”.
The Association of British Commuters, together with another rail campaign group, Bring Back British Rail, have sent a new legal letter, challenging the government on its decision on the chaotic history of GTR, which is riddled by poor service.
The DfT, says Yates, has “passed up every chance to renationalise the franchise”. Instead, government officials have done a series of secret deals with the private operating company, involving tens of millions of pounds of additional “investment” to pay for improvements to the shabby service being provided.
“Every ‘penalty’ reported in the press has in fact been a remedial measure to be reinvested into this chronically failing franchise,” Yates said.
Staff shortages and long-term mismanagement persist on GTR, who are now experiencing a higher rate of “covid absences” than any other franchise in the country, which is being used as a reason for operating a reduced timetable, at least until mid-May.
“It is likely that these long-standing issues will continue for another six years if the new contract is awarded,” the ABC warns.
“With the directors and auditors of Southeastern, GTR, Govia Ltd and the Go-Ahead Group all reported to be complicit in the scandal, the only responsible decision is to ban these companies permanently from the UK railway.”
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