ASLEF & Rail Policy Developments

ASLEF’s role in the Labour Party Rail Policy Developments – 2005 to 2013


2005 to 2008

Labour Party policy as determined by conference in 2004 committed the Party to public ownership of the railways However the Labour government’s post 2005 rail policy could best be characterised as a tentative one which culminated in the cautious document Delivering a Sustainable Railway published in July 2007. Internal party policy followed a similar trajectory with 2007’s Partnership in Power policy document Creating Sustainable Communities whose rail aspirations were more measured than ambitious.



Accordingly this context led the Labour affiliated rail unions including ASLEF to approach the July 2008 National Policy Forum with a degree of trepidation in our policy proposals. ASLEF expressed its reservations about the fragmented state of the rail industry particularly the franchising system and its concerns about the level of subsidy versus the amount of private profit leaving the industry and sought a commitment that one rail franchise would be run on a not-for-profit basis to act as a comparator against the private sector.

The text agreed at by the rail unions and the Party was as follows:

The reforms we have introduced have hugely improved the planning and management of much of the railway industry. We will continue to examine whether any further improvements can be made including learning from the experience of railway industries overseas and critically examining all factors and models for the operation of train operating services, including not-for-profit models, which will benefit passengers and taxpayers.

We believe the business and environmental case for electrification is growing fast. As a result we will step up our efforts through a cross industry working group to re-examine the business case for electrification, explore how costs can be brought down much further and agree priority schemes.

We will work with Network Rail to assess the feasibility of new capacity including inter-city rail lines, high speed lines,and freight and where alignment should be safeguarded so that we are ready for when decisions on such schemes need to be taken in the future.

This policy was subsequently accepted by the 2008 Labour Party Conference.



A Cabinet reshuffle in June 2009 saw Lord Adonis promoted from Minister of State to Secretary of State following which rail policy has featured more prominently on the political agenda with significant announcements on a programme of electrification and plans for the development of a high speed network quick to follow his appointment. In July National Express declared that their stewardship of the East Coast mainline franchise was no longer financially viable. Lord Adonis quickly stated that the Group would be stripped of the East Coast mainline as well as its other East Anglia and C2C franchises although, in practice, that aspiration was not fully realised.

Takeover speculation concerning the National Express Group prompted ASLEF and TSSA to raise the issue at the 2009 Labour Party Conference with an emergency motion. The text was as follows:

Conference is concerned that on 23rd September the deadline for the CVC-Cosmens consortium to make a formal offer for National Express was extended for a second time until October 9th. Conference notes that the Secretary of State for Transport will then be required to determine the public interest in terms of the future of the Group’s UK rail and bus divisions, including the East Coast, East Anglia and C2C rail franchises.

Conference applauds the Labour government’s decision to take the East Coast mainline franchise back into public hands for the second time in three years following National Express’s failed stewardship of the economically and strategically vital route and believes that the ease with which National Express was able to renege on its contractual obligation to pay the government £1.4 billion by 2014 demonstrates that the rail franchising system as currently constituted cannot deliver the investment or certainty which passengers or taxpayers deserve.

Conference supports the policy of our party, as determined by the July 2008 National Policy Forum and adopted by Conference 2008, which states: ‘we will examine all factors and models for the operation of train operating services, including not-for-profit models, which will benefit passengers and taxpayers.’

Conference acknowledges that a July 2009 Transport Select Committee report urged the Government to retain the East Coast Main Line franchise in the public sector to provide a benchmark against which to compare the performance of other types of franchises both in terms of financial viability and passenger service quality.

Conference therefore believes that the East Coast franchise should be retained as a public company and run on a not-for-profit basis rather than re-let to the private sector.

The motion was unanimously accepted by Conference and is now party policy.



ASLEF lobbied strongly for a pledge to construct the High Speed Two rail line as part of its election campaign in the run up to the general election in May. The party manifesto said ‘at the heart of our growth plan is a commitment to a new high speed line linking north and south.’

The union also urged the party to be creative in its approach to rail mindful that gradual, incremental steps will need to betaken en route to a publicly owned, publicly accountable railway. The manifesto said ‘We will welcome rail franchise bids from not-for-profit, mutual

or co-operative franchise enterprises and will look to remove unfair barriers that prevent such bids benefiting passengers and taxpayers.’


ASLEF submitted a motion to annual conference in September on the subject of tax avoidance and deficit reduction. The text was:

Tax Avoidance and Deficit Reduction

Recent events at HMRC over PAYE administration are only one example of the highly damaging impact of cuts on the provision of public services and emphasise the need for a strong Labour Party fiscal policy to deliver fairness and justice in the tax system as part of its deficit reduction strategy.

Conference urges Labour to address the tax gap and notes that at least £50 billion is lost annually in tax avoidance, evasion and late payment, a sum which has the potential to substantially reduce the near £160 billion UK deficit.

Conference also acknowledges that the Robin Hood tax of 0.05% on global financial transactions would raise between £20 and £30 billion a year if applied to UK financial institutions with scope to reduce the deficit by up to 20%.

In addition to taxation Conference asserts that investment must be at the heart of Labour’s deficit reduction plan particularly in areas such as rail infrastructure which can increase economic growth and social mobility as well as house building which will stimulate the construction industry.

Conference calls on the Labour Party to:

  • Commit to eradicating tax avoidance schemes
  • Campaign for the introduction of a Robin Hood tax on financial institutions in the UK
  • Set out plans for counter-recessionary investment in key infrastructure to boost economic growth.




ASLEF’s motion to the 2011 Labour Party conference called for investment in transport to be part a sustainable economic recovery.The text was as follows:

Sustainable Economic Recovery

Conference notes with dismay that the survey published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies on 12th September which warned that household budgets could be squeezed for the next 10 years as the impact of tax rises and cuts are felt.

Conference notes the announcement in August that rail fares are due to rise by at least 8% next year and sees this as a further tax increase on hard working commuters and acknowledges that year on year increases above inflation will add further pressure to household budgets.

Conference calls on Labour to champion the interests of working people and commuters by supporting calls for an end to above inflation rail fare increases and a railway that is no longer the “rich man’s toy” described by the Secretary of State for Transport.

Conference deplores the Government’s decision to award preferred bidder status for the Thameslink Rolling Stock Project to Siemens in preference to Bombardier of Derby.

This will effectively end the UK’s train manufacturing capability notwithstanding the Secretary of State for Transport and European Commission representative informing the Transport Select Committee on 7th September 2011 that it would be legally possible to reverse the decision.

Conference calls on Labour to support the campaign against the closure of the Bombardier works in Derby and to support the Parliamentary rally for Bombardier called for 12th October 2011. Conference further calls on Labour to deliver a structure for the UK rail industry that delivers for taxpayers, passengers, manufacturing and the economy.



Commissioned by ASLEF and sister rail unions RMT and TSSA with support from Unite, the Rebuilding Rail report was published in July 2012. The first progressive analysis of the consequences of rail privatisation since the Catalyst report in 2005, the report was a major contribution to the ongoing Labour Party policy process and set out a blueprint for how an incoming Labour administration in 2005 could rebuild rail.

The report can be found here:



ASLEF works closely with many constituency labour parties throughout the UK. The union was very disappointed that nearly 40 CLP contemporary resolutions on rail were ruled out of order in 2012. Accordingly ASLEF and sister union TSSA were pleased a number of CLPs submitted the following motion to the conference on‘Railways’ in support of the unions’ policy.


This CLP recognises that the rail network is vitally important to the UK’s economic and social livelihood as well as a greener and more sustainable future.

This CLP acknowledges that the present structure ofthe UK rail network does not provide value for money or fairness for passengers and taxpayers. It further welcomes Labour’s commitment to retaining the East Coast mainline in public hands and notes that the franchise has delivered more than £600 million to the Department for Transport since it left the private sector in 2009.

This CLP asserts that the Government’s rail franchising policy has been in disarray since the collapse of the West Coast franchising process last September and calls on the Labour Party leadership to announce that it will adopt Labour’s own conference policy of retaining franchises in public hands once they expire. Such a step would not require a spending commitment from a future Labour Chancellor. It would on the contrary ensure that the contributions made by fare-paying passengers and other taxpayers would be wholly available for public reinvestment, and not diverted into the pockets of private company shareholders.

The union engaged with Lord Ray Collins over the course of his review into the constitutional relationship between the Labour Party and the affiliated trade unions.

Vice President Tosh McDonald gave a hugely well received speech during a debate on public ownership of the railways at the conference in Brighton in September. It can be viewed here:


In addition ASLEF submitted a motion to the conference on the subject of HS2 which unfortunately was not successful in the priorities ballot. The text of the motion was as follows:

ASLEF Contemporary Motion – Labour Party 2013

Public Ownership – High Speed Two

Conference notes KPMG’s report published on 11th September which shows that HS2 could give a £15 billion annual boost to the economy with the north and midlands regions gaining at least double the benefits accrued in the south. Conference asserts that the existing rail network is operating at near full capacity and neither new motorways nor domestic air travel are sustainable options to meet the mobility requirements of a British population expected to grow by 10 million by 2033.

Conference deplores the absence of a national transport strategy from the current Government and believes the development of a high speed rail network must be at the heart of Labour’s vision for transport.

Conference applauds Labour’s instigation and continued support for this vital national infrastructure project.



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