Simon Kelner: Branson's 'failure' was that he wouldn't raise his bet

Kelner's view

Share
Related Topics

I am now sorry that I didn't enter the bidding for the rail franchise from London to the North-West and Scotland. I would have offered to pay the Government £20bn, and promised a free massage for every customer, on-board catering by Jamie Oliver himself, daily direct non-stop services to Ramsbottom and a limousine service to Euston for anyone who's able to pay the new fare of £2,800 for a first class single to Manchester.

In this world of consumer promiscuity, when we change our energy supplier, our insurance broker, and even our mortgage company at regular intervals, brand loyalty is increasingly hard to come by. So maybe I'm not with the programme, but I like Virgin Trains, I think they have wrought great improvements in the line I use – London to Manchester – and I feel a sense of loyalty towards Richard Branson and his company as a result.

Consequently, it was with some dismay – although not quite up to the level that Branson expressed from his Necker Island redoubt – that I greeted the news that Virgin Trains was to lose the franchise to First Group, primarily because they bid considerably more than Virgin for the privilege. Branson called the Department of Transport's decision "insanity", some analysts felt the growth assumptions in the successful bid to be wildly optimistic, the share price of First Group fell as a result, and even the rail unions joined in an unlikely alliance with Branson.

In a first for this column, I will quote Bob Crow, the RMT general secretary, as an exemplar of good sense and articulate reasoning. "The First West Coast deal is an exercise in casino franchising that lays bare the whole sordid enterprise which is rail privatisation," he said. "Companies promise the earth, jack up fares and slash jobs and services in a drive for profits and if the numbers don't stack up they throw back the keys and expect the public sector to pick up the pieces."

This seems to be the end of the line for Virgin as a rail operator, particularly as Branson has said that he'll never bid for another franchise "unless David Cameron personally apologises to me". (That's not going to happen, I'm afraid, Richard.) And it would be well to remember that, in the 14 years that Virgin has operated the line, it has transformed the service (it used to take three hours to Manchester; it now takes two) and doubled passenger numbers. (We were once even treated to a live musical performance in the buffet car on the way back from Stoke. This was nothing to do with Virgin, but the staff played along with it, and we were all sure that Sir Richard would have approved.)

Of course, if First Group maintain standards – live music being optional – we will soon forget about Sir Richard and his Pendolino. But the history of the British rail network post-privatisation is not a happy one, with the Dutch auction system of awarding franchises based on promises rather than history at the heart of the problem. One thing's for sure: private or not, the public will end up paying. What a way to run a railroad!

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: Every privatised corner of the NHS would be taken back into public ownership

Philip Pullman
 

Errors & Omissions: Magna Carta, sexing bishops and ministerial aides

John Rentoul
As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links