Val Shawcross

06 November 2013

She writes: 'Privatising the railways, with the complex and fragmented ownership and management structure that has resulted, was clearly a mistake, with even David Willetts admitting as much. The decision by John Major to follow the prescriptions of the Adam Smith Institute laid the foundations for the mess we see today. At the time we were promised a system that would improve services, with Major telling parliament in February 1993: "franchises will provide a better, cheaper and more effective service for the commuter."

'The simple fact is that in the UK we pay one of the highest public subsidies, some of the highest fares and yet receive one of the worst services in Europe. Since privatisation, fares have increased above inflation for a large number of routes and the ticketing system is ludicrously complicated. TfL has demonstrated that it is possible for a public provider to deliver high standards of service and a straight forward integrated ticketing system.

'DOR must be allowed to bid for the franchises as they come up for renewal. Those who want to continue with a dogmatic free market approach must follow their own logic. If they believe private companies are superior to the public sector, why should they worry about competing with DOR? The very fact the government are allowing foreign state-backed railways to bid for our franchises but not our own state-backed company is ludicrous. This isn’t about a 'lurch to the left', or returning to the 1970s, this is about getting the best service at a price that is affordable for passengers.

'Closer to home in London, the first step should be to give control of the commuter routes serving the capital to TfL. This is something even the ardently pro-market Boris Johnson supports. Unfortunately, he hasn’t yet been able to convince his colleagues in government to hand him the reins, but this is something that government should do. They probably worry about commuters in Kent reacting against London’s Mayor having control of some of their commuter services, but the reality is that passengers in the wider south east would see improvements in their journeys to work in London.

'We can carry on down the path of current railway privatisation and accept ever higher fares, high public subsidy and poor service, but we have a choice. I don’t know about you, but 20 years from now I’d rather be discussing something else rather than why 40 years of railway privatisation has failed.

'Politics is about the art of the possible; it is entirely possible to allow DOR to bid for rail franchises and it is entirely possible to allow TfL to run regional services that come into London. It is about time we made it happen, otherwise we’ll see more wasted years with passengers picking up the bill for failure.'

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