Govt takes over Southeastern after £25m in taxpayer funding goes undeclared

17 October 2021, 09:26

The Government has taken over Southeastern train services
The Government has taken over Southeastern train services. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

The Government has today taken over train services on Southeastern's network after the franchise holder failed to declare more than £25m in taxpayer funding.

It means the Department for Transport now runs trains on the network, one of the busiest in Britain which includes London, Kent, East Sussex and the High Speed 1 line.

Passengers are unlikely to see immediate changes to the trains, timetables and fares and staff are set to stay in place.

The Southeastern franchise was owned by Govia, a joint venture between Go-Ahead Group and Keolis.

Go-Ahead Group's chief financial officer Elodie Brian resigned after the takeover was announced.

Read more: Great British Railways: State-owned body set up in major overhaul of UK rail network

The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said an investigation revealed Govia had failed to declare more than £25m of taxpayer funding that should have been returned.

He added the Government would expect no less than "absolute transparency with taxpayer support".

Further investigations are under way and options such as financial penalties are under consideration.

Anthony Smith, chief executive of passenger watchdog Transport Focus, said: "Whoever runs Southeastern, passengers will want a reliable service which delivers on their key priorities: a punctual, reliable, clean train, with enough room to sit and stand, and value for money fares."

It follows takeovers of two other franchises, with the Department for Transport's Operator of Last Resort scheme launching London North Eastern Railway in 2018 and Northern Trains in March last year.

PA news agency analysis suggests about a quarter of passenger journeys in Britain will now be on trains under public control.

Cat Hobbs, director of public ownership campaign group We Own It, said: "Again and again, privatisation is failing our railway and franchises are being brought into public ownership one by one.

"Profit-driven companies won't put passengers or the public first - especially as the railway is a natural monopoly where we don't have a choice between companies."