Labour privatises South East Trains: ‘Lunacy’ says union

30 November 2005

The Labour government today announced that it has re-privatised South East Trains. ASLEF General Secretary Keith Norman says the move shows the government is ‘ignoring its responsibilities to passengers, staff and the tax-payer’.

South East Trains radically improved both punctuality and profitability during the two years it has been in public hands following the ending of the Connex franchise. Services improved by 9%. A nationwide poll revealed that 72% of the public wanted private rail companies to revert to the public service when franchises end. The Department for Transport has spent £3.85 million to set up arrangements to return the South East Trains franchise to the private sector.

Small wonder that Keith describes today’s privatization moves as ‘the politics of the madhouse and the economics of the asylum’.

The government has announced that train operator Govia has been given an eight-year franchise to run services across Kent and in parts of Sussex, including running domestic Channel Tunnel Rail Link services.

‘It is an indication of what is to come that the first thing the new company has done is to announce ticket prices increases of 3% above inflation. It is a slap in the face for millions of commuters across the south-east of England. The real challenge for government would have been to make the publicly-owned enterprise a flag-ship for rail travel. Instead it has gone for the easy option of finding someone to blame for a service that will inevitably decline.’

Keith says it is a sad day for the Labour Party, whose conference fully supported South East Trains remaining in public hands. ‘Their decisions have been ignored, and the government’s real attitude towards public ownership has been revealed.

‘It has talked about a mixed economy of public and private enterprise. Those words ring hollow today. It seems the real policy is privatization, pure and simple.’

Keith said everyone would pay a price for today’s decision – the public, the employees and the Labour government.

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