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The review of the Rail Franchising Programme carried out by the
Chairman of Eurostar, Richard Brown, was published on 10 January
Brown Review of the Rail Franchising Programme), after being
presented to the Secretary of State for Transport prior to
The Brown Review has its genesis in the events of last summer.
The Government decided to suspend its rail franchising programme on
3 October 2012 following the much publicised cancellation of the
franchise award in the West Coast franchise competition. It
established two inquiries as a result:
The Laidlaw Inquiry reported on 6 December 2012. As the Brown
Review sets out, it found: "numerous inadequacies in the [West
Coast] competition, particularly in relation to inconsistent
planning, an opaque procurement process, and the ways in which
civil servants, lacking in commercial capabilities, acted outside
their authorities or outside the agreed procurement
It is reassuring that Brown has found no similar catalogue of
inadequacies in the franchising programme as a whole. Brown's
covering letter sending his review to the Secretary of State for
Transport says: "I have come to the conclusion that the
franchising system is not broken, but, on the contrary, it has made
a major contribution to Britain's increasingly successful rail
network. There is no credible case for major structural
change". So, it seems, franchising should remain – but what
form will this generation of franchises take and what impact will
that have on those operating and bidding for franchise
The Brown Review makes recommendations dealing with franchises,
how they should be specified, the franchise letting process and
franchise management. A summary of some of the most significant
recommendations and some initial thoughts on them is set out
Overall, the Brown Review is a well written and encouraging
paper setting out what is required to cultivate an efficient
franchising process leading to the award of robust franchises –
setting out clearly in many places what the industry has been
saying for a number of years. Clearly Brown's team have spoken to
TOCs and owning groups, and considered, and often addressed, many
of their concerns.
The Rail Delivery Group, TOCs and owning groups are likely to
welcome many of Brown's recommendations as encouraging private
sector involvement and providing certainty. There appears to be no
intention for there to be a permanent public sector comparator,
with Directly Operated Railways being reserved as operator of last
resort where there is a default.
Questions do remain however. The main one being when franchising
will restart. The DfT's PIN in April 2013 is expected to reveal all
– in the meantime, a solution will need to be found and implemented
for all of the franchises that will expire over the next few years
so that they are profiled for the three to four a year that Brown
envisages. DfT will set out the position regarding the existing,
suspended, competitions earlier, in an announcement by
Another key question surrounds what the phasing and staging of
change to this "new" franchising proposition will look like. It is
important to remember in this context that the failed West Coast
franchise was itself intended to be "interim" pending full adoption
of the McNulty reforms. It will take time to get the model
As the Brown Review recognises, over the 18 years since
privatisation there have been many reviews of, and adjustments to,
franchises, franchising bodies and the franchising process. The
most recent of these was the Government's review in 2010 – only
partly implemented. It remains to be seen the extent to which
Brown's recommendations are adopted, and whether the industry will
arrive at a definitive franchising template which will apply for
years to come. This is most likely to occur if industry and the DfT
grasp the opportunity now for stability represented by the Brown
Review and take it forward.
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