Labour has proposed putting railway ownership into public hands in a declaration described as “woolly ideas” that would “create chaos”.
In an interview with the New Statesman, shadow Transport Secretary Michael Dugher promised that should his party be elected in May, “The public sector will be running sections of our rail network as soon as we can do that”.
The Barnsley East MP was tasked by Ed Miliband to ‘toughen’ Labour’s stance on the railway, taking it away from the New Labour ideology. “This is not like 1997,” he said. “That whole deference to markets and the private sector, that’s gone too.”
Britain’s railways were privatised by the Railways Act of 1993 following an EU directive which required all member states to separate “the management of railway operation and infrastructure from the provision of railway transport services, separation of accounts being compulsory”. The idea was that the track operator would charge the train operator a fee to run its trains over the network and anyone else could run trains under the same conditions.
Up until 1948, the pre-nationalised railways were almost entirely self sufficient, but after nationalisation, services were notoriously bad, with dirty trains and badly maintained infrastructure. This, at least, is understood by Mr Dugher, who said he did not want to “go back to some sort of 70s and 80s British Rail, I don’t think sensible people are, actually.”
“But I think we’ve got to make the starting point that privatisation was a mess, it was botched and what you’ve found is, in a sort of piecemeal way, little changes were made, often in response to horrendous events, whether it was Hatfield and rail maintenance coming back in house, or Railtrack imploding and Network Rail being set up, Network Rail now being on our books, we are dealing with the consequences of one of the worst decisions that any government has made. It’s not going back to a 70s, 80s model of British Rail but I think you can do far more to make some really big changes and that’s why I’m talking about a public sector operator, really, really important.”
It is a definite step in a leftwards direction which will please Miliband’s union backers whose support won him the party leadership.
“I’m going to be honest and proud about this: I want there to be more public control of the railways and we should just say it because, actually, that’s what the public think as well,” Mr Dugher said.
“We’ve talked about how the only people who have no voice at the moment in the running of the railways are the travelling public, the passengers themselves.
“What you have at the moment is something that’s rather ironically named the Rail Delivery Group, which is basically Network Rail and the private companies, the TOCs (Train Operating Companies) and the freight and they get together and they stitch-up the running of the railways and they do it with our money. Network Rail’s on our books, there’s huge taxpayer subsidies and investment going into the railways, but the industry want to stitch it up themselves and we’re not having that anymore.”
Michael Roberts, Director General of the Rail Delivery Group, responded to the comments, saying that Britain’s railways had been “transformed into Europe’s fastest growing and safest network through a combination of private sector innovation, competitive tendering and government policy.
“Passengers rate Britain’s railway more highly than do their counterparts on any other major network in the European Union and we are committed to do even better.”
A Conservative Party spokesman told Breitbart London that “these woolly ideas would create chaos on infrastructure that is so vital to passengers and our economy.
“As part of our long term economic plan we are investing a record £38bn in our railways. Labour are yet to set out how this funding would be affected by their intention to be both player and referee.”
Mark Littlewood, Director General of the Institute of Economic Affairs, said: “Privatisation is often blamed for the shortcomings of Britain’s railways, but we have never had genuine privatisation. Nominal ownership may have been transferred to the private sector, but the government remains firmly in control.
“Renationalisation would only exacerbate this problem. Politicians and bureaucrats would still make the key decisions on rail and there would be even less attention given to commercial considerations and even fewer opportunities innovation in the industry.
“A far better option would be to move towards proper privatisation. Taxpayer subsidies could be phased out; loss-making lines could be closed; and investment could be restricted to those projects that were profitable.”