SUGGESTIONS that the head of ScotRail quit as a result of a disagreement with the Scottish Government are “crass” and “absolutely false”, MSPs have been told.
Transport Minister Humza Yousaf faced questions over the departure of ScotRail Alliance managing director Phil Verster when he appeared before Holyrood’s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee.
He denied there had been a disagreement over the use of the Service Quality Incentive Regime (Squire) railway improvement fund.
It is contributing £1.8 million to a £3 million Government initiative to give certain passengers a free week of travel as a “thank-you” following disruption on the railways.
Mr Verster left his role days after telling the committee that the fund, built up through penalties imposed for delays, stood at only around £1 million and had been earmarked for other initiatives.
He told MSPs that contractually the decision about where to invest funds “sits with Abellio ScotRail” and he “couldn’t vouch” for the scheme going forward.
Mr Yousaf told the committee Mr Verster had used “incorrect” figures, and the Squire fund actually sits at £2.06 million.
Liberal Democrat MSP Mike Rumbles said: “Phil Verster when he came here was quite clear and surprised the members of the committee, certainly surprised me, when he said that the contractual position is that the decision about where to invest the Squire fund sits with Abellio ScotRail, not with the Scottish Government, and this £1.8 million he said he had, quote, ‘not agreed to’ and then 48 hours later he resigns.
“Now you come to the committee to say, and I quote you again, ‘we have the funding already in place’.”
The minister responded: “The insinuation is the absolutely incorrect one. It is absolutely unfair to make a suggestion that because after Phil Verster’s coming to committee that somehow he resigned as a result of that, that was the insinuation you were making – an absolutely incorrect one, an absolutely false one to have made and I think frankly a crass one to make as well.”
On the use of the Squire fund, he added: “Transport Scotland and ScotRail will come to an agreement on where to spend that money, contractually speaking it is up to Scottish ministers how that money should be spent but generally speaking, as we have always done, we will do that in consultation and discussion with ScotRail.”
The committee appearance came as Transport Scotland published more details about the fares initiative, due to go ahead this summer.
Monthly and annual season ticket holders will gain a free week of travel, with free off-peak return trips anywhere in Scotland for those who switch to smart ticketing.
Weekly season ticket holders on Smartcard will also benefit from a complimentary one-day return ticket, with an offer for leisure passengers to be announced later in the year.
Mr Yousaf said: “The Squire regime is all about improving the passenger experience and using a proportion of these funds to benefit ScotRail passengers clearly falls within this remit. The remaining £1.2 million will come from Transport Scotland.”
ScotRail Alliance commercial director Cathy Craig said: “We are pleased to be contributing £1.8 million of Squire funds for this significant benefit for passengers. This is a sincere token of our appreciation for their patience and understanding as we progress one of the biggest infrastructure improvements for Scotland’s railway since Victorian times.”