Feb 2012 Rounding up allies

01 June 2013

WHEN the Tories privatised the railways they said it was to introduce competition which would drive costs and fares down. Eighteen years down the line Sir Roy McNulty’s ‘Rail Value for Money’ report is the proof it didn’t happen. They are still rearranging seats on the Titanic.

 

Next month will see the government’s response to the McNulty report. It was heralded as being ‘independent’ - but consultants tend to write what the person with the pay cheque wants.

 

Theresa Villiers made the government’s priority clear in the Commons a couple of weeks ago when she said, ‘It is vital to get the cost of running the railways down.’ Anyone truly concerned with the railways would say, rather, ‘It is vital to get the standard of the rail service up.’ That’s the difference between Tory ministers and the union.

 

Our two immediate priorities are to defend train drivers’ wages and conditions and to protect the industry from any more fragmentation. Even the most casual observer must see that to be truly efficient, the UK’s railway must be a single interlinked network. If Network Rail is broken up and the track is given to the operating companies, all kinds of problems are raised. Perhaps the most obvious are that high-level maintenance would not be cost-effective as franchises come to an end; and freight traffic would increasingly be side-lined at the expense of the track’s ‘owners’.

 

So what is motivating the government? It’s the Coalition’s ‘smoke and mirror’ approach to economics. If they shunt the track into the private sector, they can claim they have saved public money. In fact, the reverse is the case. The private sector adds its profits to the rail bill – so the passenger and tax payer pay more.

 

That’s why we’ll be doing our best to build alliances with both these groups. All our interests are served if we keep the network as a single entity and if profits go back into the industry rather than lining the pockets of shareholders. That’s the message we need to get across.

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