Every passenger on Nicola Sturgeon’s Caledonian Sleeper costs taxpayers £95
The Caledonian Sleeper has cost taxpayers £95 for every passenger that has travelled on the service since Nicola Sturgeon became Scotland’s first minister, new analysis reveals.
The subsidy to run the overnight train linking London with the Scottish Highlands has now hit £173m since 2014, when its latest contract was awarded.
Analysis of figures compiled by the Office of Rail and Road shows that the service has carried 1.8 million people over that time – meaning the subsidy per passenger is on average about £95.
The subsidy compares with fares starting at just £50 for a seat to Glasgow. A superior en-suite double is priced at £345.
The Caledonian Sleeper has been operating in various forms since 1873 and is currently run by Serco, the outsourcing firm best known for running many of Britain’s prisons.
Scottish ministers last year announced plans to cancel Serco’s contract, which was originally scheduled to last for 15 years and be worth £800m, and nationalise the service.
The SNP said proposals from Serco to renegotiate its contract – as the outsourcer was entitled to do – did not represent “value for money to the public”.
Ms Sturgeon’s administration may now be forced to backtrack on its nationalisation plans, however. Transport minister Jenny Gilruth has said UK legislation prevents it from being able to step in and automatically strip Serco of the contract.
UK laws stipulate that Scottish ministers must either put the operations out to tender, renegotiate with Serco, or award the contract to an operator owned by the Scottish government.
“I cannot, as a Scottish minister, unpick that legislation, much as I would like to,” Ms Gilruth said.
It is understood that the problems over Serco fees can be traced back to the original contract drawn up by Holyrood officials. Under the terms of the contract, Serco has the right to renegotiate the deal to ensure it has “a small positive profit margin” or quit the contract altogether.
Serco racked up large losses in the early years of its contract to run the Caledonian Sleeper.
Some £150m was spent on new trains to revitalise the “hotel on wheels”. However, the 2019 re-launch was marred by delays, room mix-ups, issues with the catering and even leaking cabins.
A spokesman for Transport Scotland spokesman said: “Following the Scottish Ministers’ rejection of Serco Caledonian Sleepers Limited's Rebasing proposal in October 2022, the current Caledonian Sleeper Franchise Agreement will terminate on 25 June 2023.
“The Caledonian Sleeper remains an important part of Scotland’s transport mix, particularly for Highland and rural communities”.
Serco declined to comment.