Monday 1 December 2014

Privatisation of East Coast Mainline service: why no outrage?

Our  East Coast Main Line Railway is somewhat misnamed since most of it doesn't go anywhere near the coast.  Certainly the bit I use, Leeds to London King's Cross and back, doesn't.

However, its geographical position is not the cause of the present outrage, or, rather, the lack of any.  Like the rest of dear old British Rail it was taken out of public ownership and privatised by the Tories in 1993.  Since then two private companies, GNER and National Express, have had to pull out because they couldn't make enough profit, and the running of trains on the route had to be taken back into public ownership  in 2009.

Since then the trains have been operated by Directly Owned Railways (DOR), a public body responsible to the Department of Transport.  They seem from my experience, albeit I'm an infrequent user, to have made a thoroughly  good job of it.  Trains to and  from Leeds are every half  hour rather than the hourly service the private companies offered, they are punctual, and the fares, if you book early enough, are very reasonable.

And they also make a profit, which is handed over to the exchequer.

So on the splendid maxim of "if it  ain't broke, don't fix it"  why not leave things as they are?

But no, our ideologically fixated Tory government has insisted that it be re-privatised, and last week a consortium of two private companies, Sir Richard Branson's "Virgin" and Brian Souter's "Stagecoach," were  awarded the franchise.  DOR was not even allowed to enter a bid  - so much for fairness and the level playing-fields of Eton.

There was a time when the Tories accused Labour of being soaked in ideology whilst they, the Tories were pragmatic.  Now it seems they are tarred with the same brush, with a complete lack of evidence to support their case.

What I cannot understand is why this outrageous decision has passed almost unnoticed.  We seem to have lost our will to react.

For further and better particulars of the failure of Mrs Thatcher's supposed  triumph of privatisation read James Meek's excellent book: "Private Island: why Britain now belongs to someone else," - but only if you have no problem with high blood-pressure.  Most bizarrely, many of the utilities privatised by Mrs Thatcher to encourage eider share ownership have been renationalised, but not by the British government.  Our electricity supplies are now largely owned by EDF, an arm of the French government, and, back to railways,  Arriva UK Trains is actually owned by the German government's Deutches Bahn.  You couldn't make it up. a chunk of our railways is now owned

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