McDonnell adjournment debate

01 March 2006

LABOUR MP John McDonnell has condemned the government practise of compensating Train Operating Companies for losses incurred by industrial action as an “abuse of public funds”.


Speaking in a debate he had organised in the House of Commons on February 28th, Mr McDonnell said that the practise was the reverse of the “fairness not favours” policy which the government had promised in its treatment of the unions when coming into office.


The reality was that “privatised rail companies are getting favours and the unions are not getting fairness,” said the MP for Hayes and Harlington.


Katy Clark, the Labour MP for Ayrshire North and Arran, pointed out that the Scottish executive (in Scotland, transport policy is devolved to the government at Hollyrood) has adopted the same policy.


The power to compensate rail companies was originally under the control of the Strategic Rail Authority but with the demise of the SRA the governments in both London and Edinburgh had to decide whether to continue the practise. Both decided to continue.


So far, the Department for Transport has paid out £23 million in compensation to the TOCs; John McDonnell asked whether the government would be prepared to pay unions in the same way.


In the Liberal Democrat contribution to the debate, the MP for Carshalton and Wallingford, Tom Brake, expressed “surprise” at the policy. However, when asked by the Labour MP Ian Davidson to say whether the Lib Dems actually supported the policy or not, Mr Brake could not answer the question. In the finest Lib Dem tradition, he spent a considerable portion of his speech wriggling on the proverbial fence and presumably now carries a pronounced limp from the splinters.


John McDonnell also raised the refusal of the Association of Train Operating Companies to meet with any of the rail unions, even in the aftermath of the July 7th bombings in London, and finally he raised concerns over the state of the railway pensions, pointing out that the TOCs are planning in many cases to sharply raise the level of employee contributions while continuing to cream off hundreds of millions of pounds in profits.

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