Celebrities support Branson over loss of West Coast franchise

Celebrities are backing a campaign to force a U-turn on the Government’s decision to strip Virgin Trains of its West Coast main line franchise.

The Apprentice presenter Lord Sugar, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and pop star Ronan Keating are among those supporting an e-petition to try to force a House of Commons debate on the decision.

Last week, the Government announced that Virgin, which
has operated West Coast since 1997, had lost out to transport company FirstGroup in the battle to run a new 13-year West Coast franchise which will start in December.

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Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson dubbed the franchise bidding process “insane” and has cast doubt on whether Virgin will ever bid for a franchise again.

He also expressed concerns that FirstGroup might not be able to fulfil its franchise commitments.

Comedian Eddie Izzard also lent his support to the petition, which now has more than 32,000 signatories.

Sir Richard said: “This is a great boost for everyone at Virgin Trains to see the level of support for us and the frustration at the Government’s decision.

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“It is clear customers want the decision reconsidered and Parliament should have the opportunity to debate this before any contract is signed, which is planned for August 28.”

There was speculation from the rail unions after the successful bid was announced that the bid would lead to a worse deal for staff in future, because of the size of the deal.

Earlier this week Branson’s Virgin airline business announced it was moving into domestic flights, with a service between the capital and Manchester, cities served by the West Coast Mainline.

However, Virgin insisted the decision was as a result of market forces within the airline industry and not because of the loss of the rail franchise.