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Thursday, 4 October 2012

On Virgin Rail, Justice and the real value of £40m!

I have to travel by rail from Liverpool to London a few times a year. The service has improved massively over the last few years. At its worst the journey took over three hours. It now takes just under two. The trains operated by Virgin are efficient and comfortable and I have had very little reason to complain.

So it was alarming to hear the news that virgin had lost the contract for the North West Line to First Group. Now we are told that there were serious flaws in the tender process and that the whole thing is back to square one. The error was entirely the fault of the Ministry of Transport and compensation due to the shortlisted companies is going to be in the region of £40m.

It is that figure of £40m which concerns me.

When we hear news of government spending the aounts involved are so far beyond our experience that they don’t mean a lot. But they do make an impact when compared with something else.

I have gone on and on about the unfairness of cuts to the Legal Aid budget and the devastating effect this will have on Access to Justice. It is not just lawyers who have been opposing the cuts. Many voluntary agencies that provide advice to the most vulnerable are seeing their funding slashed and many will be unable to continue.

In order to try and meet the objections the government announced in the last budget that funds would be available to the voluntary sector. How much? Yes you guessed it. £40m is to be made available and over two years.

So the amount that has been thrown away by the major cock up over one rail franchise is equivalent to the entire amount being allocated to the sector that provides legal advice to those in greatest need - for tweo years! So we are left with two possible conclusions. Either £40m isn’t that much so the amount allocated to not for profit agencies is an insult. Or it is a lot of money and the franchise debacle is scandalous. In fact it is a combination of the two.

I am walking around Liverpool tonight to raise money for the North West Legal Support Trust which aids the provision of free legal advice. Hopefully we will raise a few thousand pounds.

If our leaders got their act together and reviewed their priorities as this could see a massive change for the better.

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