SCOTRAIL has been given a year-long “licence to fail” despite record low performance, Labour have claimed, as new details emerged of a ministerial waiver on standards.

In a parliamentary answer, Transport Secretary Michael Matheson said the government had agreed not to enforce compliance breaches until June 2019.

Under the franchise agreement, Dutch-owned operator Abellio must hit a series of targets on punctuality and reliability.

Failure requires it to produce an improvement plans and can lead to sanctions.

However the SNP Government has granted a temporary waiver from the rules, provided ScotRail’s performance does not drop more than 1% below another level.

It followed discussions in August between ScotRail and quango Transport Scotland about problems outwith ScotRail’s control involving Network Rail and cross-border services.

Rail union boss Manuel Cortes added: “It’s the job of the government to look after the needs of Scottish taxpayers and hard-working passengers by enforcing the terms of the franchise agreement. Instead Matheson’s waived the franchise performance levels for a year, giving the company carte blanche to fail.

“Mr Matheson should be roasted at Holyrood. The clue is in his job title ‘Transport Minister'. If he doesn’t want to live up to that job, he should do the decent thing and resign.”

Scottish Labour accused the government of failing to stand up for hard-pressed passengers.

MSP Colin Smyth said: “It is shocking that ScotRail have been given licence by Transport Scotland to fail for an entire year.

“ScotRail have been failing to hit these targets for years.

"Now their performance has got so bad they would have breached the franchise agreement had Transport Secretary Michael Matheson not let them ignore their targets.

“This is an insult to the passengers who have to put up with late, overcrowded, overpriced trains and completely undermines the aim of the franchise agreement.

A ScotRail Alliance spokesperson said: “ The most recent figures show that more than nine out of ten trains met their punctuality target over the previous four weeks.

“We know performance needs to get better and we share the frustrations of our customers when things don’t go according to plan.

"The investment we are making in new and upgraded trains, and our recruitment drive to increase the number of people working on our frontline, will help us to significantly improve the service we provide to our customers.”

A spokesperson for Mr Matheson said: “Labour’s hypocrisy knows no bounds. Most rail cancellations are caused by issues which are the responsibility of Network Rail, which is run by Westminster – but Labour have opposed the devolution of those functions to Holyrood.

“Ministers can hold Abellio ScotRail to account within the terms of the franchise agreement, including the ability to end the contract if its terms are not met and it is in the public interest to do so – nothing has changed in this regard.”