Government set to penalise South East Trains for two years of success

08 November 2005

Two years ago tomorrow South East Trains was taken away from private contractors and returned to the public service. Since then it has improved both service and profitability. ASLEF’s general secretary Keith Norman says government plans to sell it off again amount to ‘the politics of the madhouse and the economics of the asylum’. He says it raises serious questions about the government’s motivations.

Public company South East Trains was set up to replace the privatised Connex South East two years ago tomorrow. The private contractor was removed because of financial irregularities: the company had pocketed over half a billion pounds of public money since it was privatised in 1996. The service was returned to the public sector.

Since that time the service has improved both in terms of price and punctuality. Services have 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 conceded that it will spent £3.85 million to set up arrangements to return the South East Trains franchise to the private sector.

Yet the government continues with the folly of selling it off again.

‘Tony Blair says he wants to see improvements in public services,’ says Keith Norman. ‘South East Trains has done that. The public company has proved beneficial to the customers, the staff and the tax payer.

‘But despite these improvements, the government intends to re-privatise it. The obvious conclusion is that it doesn’t care about service – it cares about the dogma of privatisation. This is exactly the allegation it made about the Tories when the privatisation disaster began.

‘The real challenge would be to make South East Trains a flagship for public enterprise. Not to do so means the government is not only selling its principles: it is letting down its electorate. I am astonished that my party should choose the former option – and I call on them today to reconsider treading a path that is already proven to be expensive and detrimental to service standards.’

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