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 theatre company renowned for its work with children is to lose all its funding while a festival for children will gain a three-year funding package.
It was a day of winners and losers as Arts Council England announced its list of arts organisations – its National Portfolio – guaranteed public subsidy from 2015-18.
For some it will have been no comfort to learn that 42 organisations will receive £53.7m over three years from next April.
Three years ago, when the National Portfolio came into existence, Northumberland Theatre Company (NTC) learned it would lose all its annual £300,000 Arts Council funding from April 2012.
Not only did it fail in its bid to be reinstated yesterday but a second Northumberland theatre company, Hexham-based Théâtre Sans Frontières (TSF), was told it would get no more money from next year.
The company was founded in 1991 by John Cobb and Sarah Kemp and currently receives just over £200,000 to tour plays in French and Spanish to largely young audiences.
Yesterday company spokeswoman Alison Maw said: “Obviously we are disappointed. We are having a meeting with the trustees on Thursday.”
Gillian Hambleton, artistic director of NTC, said: “Basically they have cut theatre in Northumberland. It’s disgraceful. We’re still here fighting but there’s only so long you can carry on.”
One Northumberland theatre company, November Club, which specialises in site-specific work in historic locations, retains its National Portfolio status with about £100,000 annually over the coming three years.
Creative director Cinzia Hardy called it “a wonderful endorsement of our track record for excellence”.
She added that it would secure the company’s future for the next few years.
Also deprived of future National Portfolio status were Northern Architecture, Design Event and Tees Music Alliance.
Side Gallery, Newcastle, which lost funding when the first National Portfolio was announced in 2011, failed in its bid to get back on the list and was also unsuccessful with a bid for capital funding towards an ambitious improvement programme.
The only new North East addition to the National Portfolio – one of 48 around the country – will be the autumn Juice festival for children and young people which is run by destination marketing agency NewcastleGateshead Initiative (NGI).
It is to receive £100,000 a year from April 2015 to March 2018.
Carol Bell, head of culture and major events at NGI, said: “Juice’s vision is to be the leading children and young people’s arts and cultural festival in the UK and Europe.
“NPO status will enable us to continue to pursue this ambition and to really establish Juice as a festival of national and international significance, building on the great work delivered over the past seven years.”
Most major NPO organisations in the North East got pretty much what they applied for.
Sage Gateshead will receive the £3.5m per annum that it asked for, prompting chairman Lord Falconer to say: “We’re very glad to have this vote of confidence in a very tough public funding environment.”
Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums (TWAM), was delighted to retain its status as a major partner museum, meaning it will receive just over £1.5m per year from Arts Council England from next year.
But it is also to take over the role of North East Bridge organisation – which Sage Gateshead decided to relinquish – meaning it will work with cultural organisations, schools and colleges to ensure children and young people in the North East will get the chance to experience arts and culture. For this it will get Arts Council funding of £1.5m over three years.
TWAM will be the only museums organisation in the country charged with the role of Bridge organisation.
Director Iain Watson said: “Being awarded both major partner museum funding and Bridge organisation funding means we can realise our ambitious plans for developing opportunities for audiences to engage with our museums and collections over the next three years.”
Jane Tarr, who is Arts Council England’s director for the North and is based in Newcastle, said all applications for NPO status had been measured against five goals.
These were designed to ensure they would deliver great art for everyone, engage children and young people, prove resilient and be properly managed.
Of the decision to exlude TSF from the National Portfolio, she said: “It was a very, very tough decision.
“I think we recognised that TSF do good work and we are keen to carry on supporting this through other funding streams.”
She added: “We are supporting November Club, who do unique work and work in rural areas, and also Berwick Maltings which got a significant funding uplift last time.
“We have also been able to support the Queen’s Hall in Hexham and the Berwick Film and Media Arts Festival.”
Peter Stark, one-time boss of Northern Arts and co-author of a report called Rebalancing our Cultural Capital, issued a statement saying the announced funding settlement had “no demonstrated ambition” to address public investment in arts and culture that favoured London over the rest of England by a ratio of 14:1 in terms of population.
A claim that it represented a shift of 2% in favour of the regions amounted to just £6.4m which was exceeded by other grants announced recently to benefit London-based organisations.
He and his co-authors, Christopher Gordon and David Powell, said further analysis of the funding figures would be undertaken ahead of a “more authoritative” assessment.
In Newcastle Jane Tarr responded by saying: “It’s a small shift in terms of funding this time but it’s part of a much more significant shift since 2007.”
- A series of capital grants announced yesterday by Arts Council England brought joy for Seven Stories, in Newcastle, which retains its National Portfolio status (worth £1.3m over three years) and will be able to invest £499,000 on refurbishment and improving facilities for visitors. Chief executive Kate Edwards said: “We are delighted that Arts Council England continues to recognise our pre-eminent position as the National Centre for Children’s Books.”
- Also announced yesterday was an award of £1.5m to Theatre Hullabaloo in Darlington towards converting an Edwardian fire station into a flagship children’s theatre, one of only three in the country and the first north of London. Theatre Hullabaloo, which runs the Take Off festival of children’s theatre, saw its National Portfolio funding hiked from £207,000 per year to £250,000 from next April.
- A capital grant of £179,000 has been awarded to Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead so it can extend its library, establish learning zones and create an environmentally controlled archive space.
- Durham County Council has won a ringing vote of confidence from Arts Council England with a doubling of its National Portfolio funding from around £200,000 to £415,000 per year from April 2015. The Arts Council has earmarked more money from Lumiere, which attracted 175,000 people in 2013 and is now seen as the country’s foremost festival of light-based art. Support has also been maintained for Durham’s book and brass festivals. The Arts Council stated: “Festivals have an important role to play in building audiences for the arts and presenting arts in unexpected ways as well as raising the area’s international profile and contributing to the local economy.”
- Gem Arts, the North East development agency specialising in South Asian arts, will see its annual funding increased by 60% from £73,000 to £120,000 from next year. The money will help to support a new Indian Summer Festival to be programmed across major venues in Newcastle and Gateshead. This will connect the region with a project called RE-Imagine India which is being put together by the British Council to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Indian independence in 2017.
- Arc, the arts centre in Stockton-on-Tees, has been awarded a capital grant of nearly £133,000 for improvements to the building. The Arts Council is also maintaining its support for the annual Stockton International Riverside Festival.
- Northern Print, based in Newcastle and organiser of the International Print Biennale, which has just opened at venues across the region, has been awarded a capital grant of £147,000 for improvements to its studio in the Ouseburn Valley and to invest in digital print equipment.
- Source – Newcastle Journal, 02 July 2014