The Department of Transport have admitted that there is a strong possibility that the East Coast Mainline will be being taken back into public ownership. In an answer to a written parliamentary question, Minister for Transport Jo Jonson explained that the franchise was to run out of money ‘in due course’ and that this has caused the Department to consider its options—one of which being the renationalisation of the line.
In a written question to the Department of Transport, Alex Sobel, MP for Leeds North West, wrote:
“To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, what assessment he has made of the potential merits of public ownership for East Coast Mainline in the event that the franchise ends early.” (131565 07 March 2018)
The answer came from Minister of State for Transport, Jo Johnson:
“Since 2015 the East Coast franchise has met all its financial commitments to the taxpayer, returning nearly £1 billion to the public purse. But this has come at a substantial cost of almost £200 million to Stagecoach. It is now clear that this franchise will in due course run out of funds and only be able to continue in its current form for a small number of months and no more.
The Government is therefore currently reviewing two options for the continuation of services on the East Coast. One is to allow Stagecoach to continue operating the service under a very strictly designed short-term arrangement. The second is for the franchise to be directly operated by the Department for Transport, through an operator of last resort. The Department will choose the option that offers best value for money for taxpayers and protects the interests of passengers. This assessment is ongoing, and a conclusion of the best option has not yet been reached.” (12 March 2018)
Alex Sobel, who has been the Labour member of Parliament for Leeds North West since June last year said: “It is clear that the franchising of the successful publicly run East Coast mainline was going to end in disaster. The Government have now admitted this and are planning to either carry on seeing Stagecoach fail in the short term or bring East Cost into public ownership, where they should have left it all along. I call on Chris Grayling to do the right thing for passengers and taxpayers and return East Coast back to the people.”