March 2007 - Same lies told in a different language

01 June 2013

ALL MY anger at the way our railways were privatised came back to me last month when I was interviewed about the ‘British experience’ by a German TV station. I was forcibly reminded that the public weren’t just deprived of a national, coordinated and accountable rail network – they were duped and deceived as well.

The interview began when I was told that those pushing for full privatisation of the German network were justifying it on three main counts: it would cut down bureaucracy, introduce competition and ‘ensure a railway more responsive to customer needs’.

I exploded rather than responded – because these are exactly the same blatant untruths that the British public were told by the Tories.

Less bureaucracy! It is a claim that almost takes your breath away.

We used to have one board, one finance office and one operations department. Since privatisation we have 26 boards, 26 finance offices and 26 operations departments. We used to have a single shareholder – the British public.

Now we have shareholders across the entire globe – with all the attendant bureaucracy that involves. We used to have a single pensions scheme – now we have 103, and each has its own boards of trustees, actuaries and professional advisors.

Cutting down on bureaucracy? I think not!

Even less true is the allegation that privatisation creates competition – ‘the rivalry offered by a competitor’. It simply does not exist. If you are standing at Liverpool station wanting to go by train to London, the choice is simple. You go by Virgin, or you don’t go at all. If there was competition you could say, ‘I won’t go by Virgin, I’ll travel with another company.’ But you can’t – for the simple reason that there isn’t one!

For every journey in the UK, privatisation has merely removed a state monopoly and put in place a private monopoly.

This in turn gives the lie to the final ‘justification’ for selling a public rail service: that private companies are ‘more responsive to customer needs’.

Private companies exist to make money. Employed on relatively short-term franchises, they will provide as little as they can for the maximum possible price. That’s how the system works.

Private companies are responsive to shareholders first, customers second – and it shows in the constant stream of reduced services.

I told the German interviewer that when UK rail was privatized we had all these arguments to hand – but they have more.

In addition to the arguments, they have solid, visible and overwhelming evidence of a rail privatisation experience that has failed. We only had the theory. They have the evidence as well.

I would like to congratulate all the reps, activists and members at South East Trains in Manchester who ensured that ASLEF reps have been re-elected to their company councils. Well done – and thank you!

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