Wednesday, July 01, 2009

On The Right Track

A glimmer of hope is on the horizon for the country's costly railways shambles with the government stepping in to take over the troubled East Coast main line franchise. With jobs on the line, discredited rail privatisation in chaos and the country in the grips of economic recession depression, a little bit of nationalisation is a welcome relief.

With paper franchise holder National Express facing losses around £20m in the first half of the year, the East Coast main line has been offered a life-line from an unlikely socialist savour in the shape of transport secretary, Andrew Adonis, one of Blair's 357 political peers.

Casting MPs and parliament aside, unelected and unaccountable Adonis banged the drum for nationalisation, popping up bold as brass on BBC R4 to tell listeners the government is to take it into public ownership for "about a year" because he was not prepared to bail out the struggling rail operator.
Time and again the government has said it won't bail out rail franchises during the recession but rejected nationalisation. That always begged the question: what if a rail franchise came to breaking point?

National Express agreed to pay the government £1.4 billion to run the East Coast main line after it won the franchise from GNER. All part of a very dodgy banking deal, laid bare by the BBC's Robert Peston.

Since then cuts have been made in shareholder dividend and pay-outs, while 750 jobs have been lost.

Only recently the firm started to mug passengers with a new profiteering con to charge 'customers' £5 to reserve a seat, on top of the already astronomical fares.

National Express, Virgin Trains and their fellow train operating monopoly conspirators have plumbed the depths in their quest to wring every last penny from rail travellers.

But the government dismissed rail nationalisation, harking back to the bad old days of BR and a "joke" railway which became a laughing stock.

Tell that to passengers crammed for hours on a train that reeks of urinals, forced on to replacement buses during a never ending round of maintenance, with meaningless reliability targets using every trick in the book to fiddle the figures.

Of course the railways have to be "modernised" since BR was scrapped. But that shouldn't mean immoral reductions in quality and reliability in return for sky-high fares and a whopping taxpayer subsidy.

So why stop at the East Coast main line? Beardie Branson is making a fat personal profit from his unique guarantee against competition on the West Coast main line. Why should one railway be propped up by taxpayers and another allowed to milk passengers for profit and Beardie live in the lap of luxury?

The Orange Party has long been a supporter of public ownership for strategic public services. Setting up not-for-profit companies can work for the railways. As long as a government which couldn't run a whelk stall isn't in the driving cab.

A long-term solution to the chaos of discredited rail privatisation is staring the government in the face, not least for the future of the country's railways and lucrative franchises.

Time and again rail nationalisation comes up as an issue which would get public support. The Post Office and Royal Mail too could be transformed into not-for-profit companies. Investing in the future with public ownership would lift the spirits of economic recession depression.

Top picture: The Flying Scotsman BR publicity poster, 1962

1 comment:

Maturecheese said...

Slightly off topic, I agree with your opinion that strategic public services should be at least 'Not For Profit' and point you to a working example 'Glas Cymru'. The problem is, even when this shower of a government has good working examples of successful not for profit companies, it has to take steps to ruin them. Glas Cymru, the owner of Welsh Water (Dwr Cymru) is a not for profit organisation that has no shareholders to pay and therefore can channel its profits back into the business, thus improving the infrastructure and keeping customer costs down. The government is going to force the water companies to break up so that the likes of Tesco can get involved in the supply end and sell you your water. Tesco of course, LOVES profits and DOES have shareholders so water customers will find their bills increasing just to pay the shareholders of whatever company (Tesco) decides there's money to be made selling you water.

New Labour pandering to corporations at the expense of the lowly citizen, yet again. I notice that the BBC haven't shouted from the rooftops about this and so most people won't even be aware of it but that's a whole other disgraceful can of worms.