ASLEF & rail policy developments
ASLEFís role in Labour Party Rail Policy Developments Ė 2005 to 2009
2005 to 2007
Labour Party policy as determined by conference in 2004 committed the Party to public ownership of the railways However the Labour governmentís post 2005 rail policy could best be characterised as a tentative one which culminated in the cautious document Delivering a Sustainable Railway published in July 2007. Internal party policy followed a similar trajectory with 2007ís Partnership in Power policy document Creating Sustainable Communities whose rail aspirations were more measured than ambitious.
Accordingly this context led the Labour affiliated rail unions including ASLEF to approach the July 2008 National Policy Forum with a degree of trepidation in our policy proposals. ASLEF expressed its reservations about the fragmented state of the rail industry particularly the franchising system and its concerns about the level of subsidy versus the amount of private profit leaving the industry and sought a commitment that one rail franchise would be run on a not-for-profit basis to act as a comparator against the private sector.
The text agreed at by the rail unions and the Party was as follows:
The reforms we have introduced have hugely improved the planning and management of much of the railway industry. We will continue to examine whether any further improvements can be made including learning from the experience of railway industries overseas and critically examining all factors and models for the operation of train operating services, including not-for-profit models, which will benefit passengers and taxpayers.
We believe the business and environmental case for electrification is growing fast. As a result we will step up our efforts through a cross industry working group to re-examine the business case for electrification, explore how costs can be brought down much further and agree priority schemes.
We will work with Network Rail to assess the feasibility of new capacity including inter-city rail lines, high speed lines, and freight and where alignment should be safeguarded so that we are ready for when decisions on such schemes need to be taken in the future.
This policy was subsequently accepted by the 2008 Labour Party Conference.
A Cabinet reshuffle in June 2009 saw Lord Adonis promoted from Minister of State to Secretary of State following which rail policy has featured more prominently on the political agenda with significant announcements on a programme of electrification and plans for the development of a high speed network quick to follow his appointment. In July National Express declared that their stewardship of the East Coast mainline franchise was no longer financially viable. Lord Adonis quickly stated that the Group would be stripped of the East Coast mainline as well as its other East Anglia and C2C franchises.
Takeover speculation concerning the National Express Group prompted ASLEF and TSSA to raise the issue at the 2009 Labour Party Conference with an emergency motion. The text was as follows:
Conference is concerned that on 23rd September the deadline for the CVC-Cosmens consortium to make a formal offer for National Express was extended for a second time until October 9th. Conference notes that the Secretary of State for Transport will then be required to determine the public interest in terms of the future of the Groupís UK rail and bus divisions, including the East Coast, East Anglia and C2C rail franchises.
Conference applauds the Labour governmentís decision to take the East Coast mainline franchise back into public hands for the second time in three years following National Expressís failed stewardship of the economically and strategically vital route and believes that the ease with which National Express was able to renege on its contractual obligation to pay the government £1.4 billion by 2014 demonstrates that the rail franchising system as currently constituted cannot deliver the investment or certainty which passengers or taxpayers deserve.
Conference supports the policy of our party, as determined by the July 2008 National Policy Forum and adopted by Conference 2008, which states: Ďwe will examine all factors and models for the operation of train operating services, including not-for-profit models, which will benefit passengers and taxpayers.í
Conference acknowledges that a July 2009 Transport Select Committee report urged the Government to retain the East Coast Main Line franchise in the public sector to provide a benchmark against which to compare the performance of other types of franchises both in terms of financial viability and passenger service quality.
Conference therefore believes that the East Coast franchise should be retained as a public company and run on a not-for-profit basis rather than re-let to the private sector.
The motion was unanimously accepted by Conference and is now party policy.
ASLEF's suggested CLP motion 2013 on Railways is as follows:
This CLP recognises that the rail network is vitally important to the UKís economic and social livelihood as well as a greener and more sustainable future.
This CLP acknowledges that the present structure of the UK rail network does not provide value for money or fairness for passengers and taxpayers. It further welcomes Labourís commitment to retaining the East Coast mainline in public hands and notes that the franchise has delivered more than £600 million to the Department for Transport since it left the private sector in 2009.
This CLP asserts that the Governmentís rail franchising policy has been in disarray since the collapse of the West Coast franchising process last September and calls on the Labour Party leadership to announce that it will adopt Labourís own conference policy of retaining franchises in public hands once they expire. Such a step would not require a spending commitment from a future Labour Chancellor. It would on the contrary ensure that the contributions made by fare-paying passengers and other taxpayers would be wholly available for public reinvestment, and not diverted into the pockets of private company shareholders.