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

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

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Education Editor: This shocking abuse of teachers should be taken seriously

Richard Garner
Brand loyalty: businessmen Stuart Rose (pictured with David Cameron at the Conservative conference in 2010) was among the signatories  

So, the people who always support the Tories... are supporting the Tories? Has the world gone mad?

Mark Steel
War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?