Train Firm Avanti Caught Mocking 'Free Money' From Government

Operator has been accused of "taking passengers and taxpayers for fools".
An Avanti West Coast mainline train in Crewe.
An Avanti West Coast mainline train in Crewe.
Christopher Furlong via Getty Images

Avanti West Coast has been accused of “taking passengers and taxpayers for fools” after managers referred to government funding as “free money” at an internal meeting.

The meeting, which reportedly took place on January 12, described how train operators are given performance-based bonuses even if services are below par.

Novara Media, which first reported the incident, said the meeting was attended by managing director Andy Mellors.

It published an image showing a slide with the title: “Roll-up, roll-up get your free money here!”.

Another slide explained how train operators are paid bonuses by the government even if services are not run completely to schedule, under the service quality regime (SQR).

This included the statement: “Sound too good to be true? Well on this occasion – it isn’t – it’s the absolute truth!”

In September, Avanti West Coast’s operating contract was renewed by the Department for Transport for up to nine years.

Labour’s shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh said: “Ministers handed Avanti millions in bonuses despite soaring delays and cancellations.

“All the while they were taking passengers and taxpayers for fools.

“This is exactly why our railways should be run in the interests of passengers, not shareholders.”

An Avanti West Coast spokesperson said: “This does not represent Avanti West Coast’s view of the service quality regime and was an isolated incident. These slides were an attempt to explain how the SQR works to some of our colleagues, but the language used in this was regrettable and we apologise.

“The service quality regime is a robust and independent audit which we take very seriously. It has been demonstrated to hold us to account to drive up standards as we strive to continually improve our customer service.”

The RMT general secretary, Mick Lynch, said: “Avanti is one of the worst rail companies in terms of performance and how it treats rail staff. For senior management to produce a PowerPoint slide bragging about the government paying them public money is a disgrace.

“The government has the mandate over Avanti and should never have given them a long-term nine-year contract award. The fact the company feels emboldened to boast that they get ‘free money’ is down to the ridiculous system of rail ownership in this country. Ultimately, profit-driven companies who receive huge public subsidies have failed to deliver for railway workers and passengers alike.”


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