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
THE decision to prevent the current public-owned railway company from bidding to run the East Coast line has been criticised by a Conservative former Cabinet minister.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean said the point of a competitive process was to allow the best company to win.
His comments came after transport minister Baroness Kramer had defended the decision to prevent Directly Operated Railways – which was set up by the Government in July 2009 to run the East Coast franchise – from bidding to continue its operations.
The franchise is due to revert to the private sector in March next year and Lady Kramer said it was a difficult industry for a public company to operate in.
“It costs something like £7-10mto put in a bid with no assurance of winning. It is certainly a high-risk industry and the margins, even for a successful and profitable company are quite fine.”
“There are a very different set of skills when you are looking at significant new investment, when you are looking at growth. This is the point we have reached with this franchise.”
But Lord Forsyth told her:
“Surely you would recognise that the whole point of competitive tendering is to get the best value and the best deal for the taxpayer and if you are right that a state owned company wouldn’t be able to compete why is that a reason to exclude it from the process?”
“Do you want to set a company, pay its senior management very high fees with the possibility of bids of £7-10 million that it might eventually achieve a franchise?
“I have to suggest the history of companies run over the long term by the UK government has not been one of outstanding success.”
Labour peer Baroness Quin said at question time in the House of Lords:
“Many of us who use the East Coast rail service regularly are dismayed that the Government has refused to allow the current publicly owned operator, which has greatly improved the service both for the benefit of passengers and UK taxpayers alike to even bid for the franchise and continue running a good service.
Labour transport spokesman Lord Davies of Oldham said:
“Only a Government addicted to dogma would dispense with a company, an organisation which has run the line so successfully and put it out to bidders of which a successful one may be a state-owned company of another country’s railway.”
Source – Northern Echo, 28 Oct 2014
RMT cleaners working for ISS on the East Coast contract are to strike again this week.
The workers have been battling over pay levels in a long running campaign, with the company refusing to grant any increase since 2011, a position the union has described as “simply disgraceful and based on nothing but pure greed”.
RMT has confirmed that there will be a strike between midnight, Friday August 15, and midnight, Saturday August 16. Picket lines will be mounted at East Coast stations.
Source – Berwick Advertiser, 12 Aug 2014
Railway workers and supporters are to protest at an event staged by a privateer bidder for Britain’s only publicly owned intercity rail service.
Eurostar/Keolis wants to take over East Coast — Britain’s most efficiently run and profitable rail service.
It was taken back into public ownership in 2009 when profiteers proved incapable of operating it.
Under public control it has provided about £800 million to the Treasury.
But the Tory-Lib Dem coalition plans to hand it back to the private sector before next year’s general election.
Rail unions RMT and TSSA will demonstrate when Eurostar/Keolis stages a presentation in Newcastle.
The protest takes place outside the banqueting suite at Newcastle’s Centre for Life at 12 noon on Friday April 11.
RMT acting general secretary Mick Cash said: “Privatisation has been a disaster for Britain’s railways. They now cost between three and four times more in taxpayer subsidy than the publicly owned British Rail.”
Source – Morning Star 03 April 2014