Easington Labour MP Grahame Morris and transport unions have reacted with fury to reports that the UK’s only Government-run rail line is to be taken over by a consortium largely owned by the French state.
Mr Morris said the decision to re-privatise the East Coast line was “right-wing Tory dogma being put ahead of the best interests of passengers”.
Edinburgh East Labour MP Sheila Gilmour and the RMT and TSSA unions were also highly critical of the expected decision.
The UK Government has been anxious to return the London to Scotland East Coast main line to the private sector ever since it was taken over from National Express by the Department for Transport in 2009.
But now it is likely that this week’s announcement of a new private franchise will see the line, from next year, being run by joint bidders Eurostar and French transport company Keolis which is 70% owned by state-run French rail company SNCF.
Opponents of the move to re-privatise the East Coast line have pointed out that the public-sector run company has made big returns to the Treasury during its tenure.
Mr Morris said:
“This public-run rail franchise has generated over a billion pounds for the Treasury. If this is what a publicly-run train operating franchise can deliver, at a time when every penny counts, we should be looking at ways to bring privately run railways back into public ownership not the other way round.
“This is right wing Tory dogma being put ahead of the best interests of the service, consideration for passengers and the public finances. The public-run East Coast main line franchise has consistently been the best performing franchise when it comes to passenger and staff satisfaction, fares and profitability. “
Ms Gilmore said:
“Passengers recognise the improvements to services that East Coast have made under public ownership over the last few years. They also appreciate that at present, all profits are retained for the benefit of British passengers and taxpayers.
“But despite calls from Labour for these arrangements to continue in the long term, today we hear that East Coast is set to be privatised just before the next general election.”
She went on:
“Ironically if the contract is awarded to Keolis – which is largely owned by the French government – ticket revenue may well be reinvested in improved services. Unfortunately these will be services between places like Paris and Lyon or Marseille and Monaco, rather than Edinburgh and London.
“A future Labour government would allow a public sector operator to bid for rail contracts, so that passengers and taxpayers always get value for money.”
A win for Eurostar/Keolis would mean disappointment for the other two bidders – FirstGroup and a joint venture between Virgin Trains and transport company Stagecoach.
Before National Express pulled out of the franchise, a previous private operator – GNER – also ceased running the East Coast line after its parent company Sea Containers got into financial difficulties.
Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT transport union said re-privatising the line was “ludicrous” and a “national disgrace”.
“This is pure industrial vandalism and the strong rumour that the French-state operator is in pole position to mop up this vital, strategic north/south route says it all.
“This Government is happy to have state ownership of our railways as long as it isn’t by the British state, in the interests of the British people.”
Manuel Cortes, leader of the TSSA transport union, said:
“This has got nothing to do with improving services but everything to do with sheer political spite.
“Here we have the best-value franchise, which has returned £1 billion to the taxpayer over the past five years, being sold overseas because it is a public sector success story.
“Rather than allow that to continue, the Tories would rather see it in French hands. They don’t want the voters having the chance to keep it in the public sector by voting Labour in May.”
He went on:
“We are in the absurd position that the country that invented railways, and gave them to the world, is no longer considered by the Tories capable enough to run our own railway firms.
“They prefer French, German and Dutch state railways to run them instead. ‘Anyone but the Brits’ seems to be their vindictive attitude.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 25 Nov 2014
A grieving South Tyneside man is facing a cash crisis after returning to the UK.
Eric Lugg, 57, who was born and raised in Jarrow, returned to his home town this month after the death of his Dutch wife, Corrie.
The couple lived near Breda, in southern Holland, for five years, but Mr Lugg, who works in the building trade, decided to return to his native Jarrow after his 58-year-old wife died of cancer late last year.
However, because he does not yet satisfy new, tougher UK residency rules, he cannot claim benefits, and is desperately seeking work in the building trade.
And he fears he will lose his one-bedroom flat in St Paul’s Road, Jarrow, because he has no money for the next £360 monthly rent payment, due on July 9.
But Mr Lugg stresses he is still a British passport holder and worked and paid taxes in the UK all his life, until moving from Murton, in County Durham, to Holland, with his wife five years ago.
He said: “I’m in limbo because of the benefit rules. I literally have no money left, and spent all I had on Corrie’s funeral in Holland and on the deposit on my flat. But the rent is due in two weeks’ time and I will not be able to pay it, unless I can find work in the building trade locally.
“I have worked and paid taxes all my life, but I cannot get a penny in benefit until I have been resident in the UK for three months.
“I’m not looking for hand-outs, but I paid insurance and taxes and all the rest in this country before I lived in Holland, but that counts for nothing.
“A friend helped me decorate the flat, but I cannot be a burden on my family in Jarrow.
“Life was far too expensive in Holland, but I need help to find a job, otherwise I don’t know what I will do. I literally have no money left and must find work in the building trade, if anyone can give me a start.”
Mr Lugg has contacted Jarrow MP Stephen Hepburn for help after his application for Jobseeker’s Allowance was rejected by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
A DWP spokesman said: “It is absolutely right that we have strict rules in place to protect the British benefits system and make sure it is not abused.
“As has always been the case, anyone who chooses to live in another country for a long period of time – and so isn’t contributing in Britain – must, if they return to the UK and want to claim benefits, prove that they have strong ties to this country in order to pass the habitual residence test.”
The new DWP rules, which came into force on January 1 this year, mean that someone has to be living in this country for three months before they can take the habitual residence test.
The rules apply to migrants from the European Economic Area (EEA) countries coming here to look for work – including British nationals returning to the UK after a period living abroad.
Source – Shields Gazette, 20 June 2014