Posted 29th September 2015 | 4 Comments

Labour conference confirms plans for rail re-nationalisation

LABOUR is to look for opportunities to bring rail passenger franchises back into public ownership before franchise contracts expire, it has emerged at the party’s annual conference in Brighton. 

A statement from the party’s National Executive Committee said that when rail franchises came up for renewal publicly-owned enterprises would be able to bid for the right to run them. 

The statement said a party task force will develop ideas and, as well as bringing private franchises into public ownership as they expire it will also examine “using break clauses to accelerate this process when this is in the interests of passengers and taxpayers.”

The NEC statement – overwhelmingly backed today by the full conference – followed new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s proposal during his election campaign to “progressively [bring] the railways back into public control” in response to “overwhelming support for a People’s Railway.”

In her conference speech today new shadow transport secretary Lilian Greenwood said Labour would oppose any further attempts to fragment or privatise rail services. 

“We know that more fragmentation and more privatisation are the last things that passengers need,” she said, adding: “I promise you this. If they pursue the policy, we are not going to stand aside.

“So if they think they can get away with it, they can think again – because we are going to fight them every step of the way.

“The Tories have the wrong priorities for our transport networks. Those networks deliver for the many when they reflect Labour values. Now let’s make it happen.” 

She said today’s railway was inefficient and among the most expensive in Europe, and a far-reaching shake-up was needed to deal with the “fragmented” network and a “broken” franchising system. More investment was needed in inter-city services, as well as greater devolution of rail services to the English regions. 

The HS2 high-speed link connecting London, the Midlands and the North of England should be “an integrated national asset that our country can be proud of,” Ms Greenwood said, adding that HS2 should become a “public service under public ownership”.

Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, which had led the push for a conference decision on re-nationalisation, said it was a “wonderful day” and that he had “never, ever been happier”.

He added: “I’m absolutely delighted that after years and years of campaigning the Labour party has finally seen sense and that we are telling the British people that there is clear red water between us and the Tories when it comes to our railways. We will be running our railways in the interests of passengers and taxpayers.”

Tosh McDonald, president of the train drivers’ union ASLEF, said having the railways in public ownership was “a no brainer” and the perverse situation facing Britain’s railways was summed up by the fact that the three preferred bidders for the next Northern franchise were state-run rail companies from Germany, the Netherlands and France.

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • david c smith, Bletchley

    To what extent is our railway actually a natural monopoly ? Perhaps it's really a matter of "horses for courses" ?
    Infrastructure and local / commuter passenger operations do indeed seem to fit this and need to have accountability through some form of public / stakeholder control, but hopefully not through national or local government - could we not look at cooperative / mutual structures involving direct democracy here?
    Raifreight and intercity / long distance passenger, though are both well suited to effective competition and would both probably be best off run on an open - access commercial basis.

  • Dan Conquer, Woking

    As the unions have repeatedly pointed out, most train operators already are state-owned: but by foreign governments! Supporters of our hopelessly tired and utterly discredited model never respond to this embarrassing unforeseen consequence because it perfectly demonstrates what a needless and dogmatic act of ideologically-driven vandalism privatisation really was. Rail travel is and always will be, for the most part, a natural monopoly and no amount of contriving can change that fact. The public understands this and Labour under Corbyn will continue to attract widespread support by unashamededly vowing to reverse this historic wrong.

  • Tony Pearce, Reading

    Don't worry - it won't happen. The last 3 Labour Governments led by Brown and Blair had every opportunity and excuse to 'nationalise' the Train Operators. They did not, because not only was too difficult but they realised that what they was actually 'nationalising' was the Blame. From then on they realised that every train delay and over-crowding would be their fault. What may change is Labour's support for HS2. That would seem to be in serious doubt because the current suggested HS2 plans for Euston and North London go through Corbyn's constituency, and they are going to cause huge disruption there for many years.

  • david c smith, Bletchley

    I'm old enough to remember the nationalised BR, with its chronic lack of access to investment funds,some inertia amongst personnel and steadily declining traffic [see editor's note], both freight and passenger.

    The real problem with privatisation has been the "dog's dinner" made of it by successive governments. Infrastructure was invested in a private natural monopoly with no real constraints on its behaviour, especially re safety ; this was succeeded by a strange organisation with no visible incentives to be cost - effective, which is now taken into the public sector.

    The passenger franchising concept involves a series of local private monopolies that in the virtual abscence of competition, need heavy state regulation and fixed contracts, which in turn prevent the potential benefits of privatisation ( enterprise, innovation, long - term investments).

    The only real success story seems to have been in railfreight, with steadily inccreasing market share without public subsidy.

    Come on Whitehall / Westminster - you " need to do better " ! By the way, I've no political axe to grind - I've been a floating voter for over 40 years.

    [It is not quite correct to describe BR's traffic as 'steadily declining'. The annual passenger total fluctuated after 1980 between 630m (in 1982) and 822m (in 1988). In fact, there was no clear trend except that the total had started to rise again before the first privatised TOCs took over in February 1996. Meanwhile, the railfreight total has sagged recently, I fear, mainly due to a major fall in coal traffic. (See Railnews print edition for October).--Editor.]