SCOTRAIL will provide better value for taxpayer money when the Scottish Government takes over the franchise in March, 2022, the transport secretary says.

Michael Matheson said the Government will “try our very best” to keep any cost increases to a minimum and offer financial incentives for commuters to take the train when the pandemic is over.

He told the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday that services will be run by the Government as an “operator of last resort” when the current contract with Dutch state-owned railway company Abellio ends next March.

Mr Matheson explained that he had considered sticking with Abellio after March, 2022, but decided it was not in the country's best interest.

He told the Scottish Parliament he had ruled out extending the existing contract with the Dutch rail operator because “the current franchising system is no longer fit for purpose”.

HeraldScotland: ScotRail train in station

Mr Matheson could not say how long the 'operator of last resort" arrangements would be in place for, adding that it was something that will be considered further as the "shape and pace" of rail reform becomes clearer.

He has now said that legal constraints meant the Government needs to wait for the current contract to finish.

Trade unions and opposition parties have long called for the franchise to be brought into public ownership and welcomed the nationalisation move.

Discussing Abellio’s record in charge of ScotRail, Mr Matheson said: “It’s been very much a mixed report card for Abellio but one we did not believe lived up to our aspirations and what we set out in the original franchise agreement with them.”

Asked if taxpayers and passengers will get better value for money under the new set-up, he said: “Yes they will. Because it will effectively cut out the company who are presently running them.”

This includes the company’s “considerable” management costs, he said.

Asked if ticket prices will be reduced, the minister said: “The fares that we have in Scotland are actually about 20% cheaper than they are in any other part of the UK.

“So we try to minimise the costs which are associated with any fare increase in Scotland.

“We’ll certainly try our very best to try and keep any cost increase to the lowest possible level.”

He added that after the pandemic, commuters will be offered new incentives to encourage them back on to the railway network.

Mr Matheson said ScotRail services will be provided by an “arm’s length company” that will be owned and controlled by the Scottish Government.

He also explained that the Government is working on further Emergency Measures Agreements (EMAs) for ScotRail and Caledonian Sleeper franchises from April to September because of the financial impact of the pandemic, with support estimated to cost £173.1 million.