Performance levers have failed to bring the Govia Thameslink rail franchise up to the network average, the government spending watchdog has said.
In a review of the franchise, which includes the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern lines, the National Audit Office (NAO) found that although performance improved after a remedial plan was introduced, it still fell below the network’s average.
The performance levers included financial penalties and the imposition of the remedial plan, which involved commitments to recruit and train new drivers. The Department for Transport (DFT) also considered cancelling the contract in late 2016.
Since taking over the franchise in 2015, around 146,000 services, 7.7% of planned services, had been cancelled or delayed by more than 30mins. This is compared to a network average of 2.8%.
The NAO report also said it was unclear how the DfT would incentivise performance for the first nine months of 2018 because it had already agreed to let Govia Thameslink "buy out" its performance liabilities up to September 2018, thereby removing the DoT's ability to issue financial performance penalties.
The DfT told the NAO it agreed the buy-outs, £5m a year for 2016-17 and 2017-18, in order to attract more investment into the franchise and to improve performance.
Negotiations on a second remedial plan and interim performance measures are ongoing, the report notes.
Taxpayers have received a net return on the franchise of £760m, having spent £2.8bn on franchise payments, but the NAO said the high levels of disruptions for passengers have meant the franchise had not delivered value for money.
Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “Over the last three years long-suffering passengers on the Thameslink franchise have experienced the worst performance on the rail network. Some of the problems could have been avoided if the department had taken more care to consider passengers in its design of the franchise.”
A DoT spokesperson said strike action by the RMT was the primary cause of delays and cancelations, and called for the union to call off industrial action.
“Clearly the disruption passengers have experienced is unacceptable but the NAO recognises that service has improved over the last 12 months. The government has taken a number of steps to ensure this improvement, including the provision of an additional £300 million to improve reliability on the Brighton Mainline,” the spokesperson said.
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