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Sunday 9 August 2015

Burnham Rail Attack Fail

For someone who has advised Labour figures all the way up to the blessed Tone, John McTernan spends an awful lot of time hovering somewhere out there on the right. There he is talking to Policy Exchange, Young Dave’s favourite “think tank” until Tim Leunig had his brainstorm and announced that northern cities were a failure and everyone ought to move to London, and there again he writes for the increasingly piss-poor Telegraph.
Here, McTernan has decided to lay into leadership hopeful Andy Burnham, over the latter’s rail policy. He starts as he means to go on - getting it wrong: “There are many stupid ways to waste public money, but surely none is more stupid than the idea of renationalising the railways. Labour leadership contender Andy Burnham has announced that he is committed to this ridiculous, wasteful and unnecessary policy”. Sadly for McTernan, Burnham has not committed to renationalisation. But do go on.

The first thing to point out is that railway privatisation has worked. And worked brilliantly. Just take the simplest measure - passenger numbers. Every year they break new records. Check the statistics: the rise started at the point of privatisation”. Er, no: passenger numbers were already rising. And the sell-offs did not happen all at once, but over a number of years. Then we get a real whopper.

Competition between rail companies has created new journeys which have generated new passengers”. Bullshit. Almost all the rail services operating on the national network are specified as part of the operator’s franchise conditions. The only exceptions are two small open access operators working on the East Coast Main Line.

But he’s not done yet: “it costs money to nationalise private property”. Burnham is still not proposing that (see his manifesto HERE). Do go on. “Just take over franchises as they lapse, goes the argument. Well, it's just not that simple. Running a railway company – public or private – does cost money. There are staff. And management. And extra Department for Transport civil servants to oversee everything”.

Soil the bed, this is wilful rubbish. Staff transfer from one operator to another as franchises change. What Burnham has cited is the model of Directly Operated Railways, which had to step in when National Express threw in the towel on the East Coast franchise. McTernan is still not convinced: “there is the loss of the savings created by competitive tendering for routes”, but once again, Burnham is not excluding that.

There’s more: “And you have still left the railways in private hands because the trains will still be owned by Train Operating Companies”. Again, Burnham is not suggesting otherwise. And what McTernan misses completely is that Network Rail - the company that owns and runs the track and signalling - is already nationalised. Franchised services are specified by Government, as is the rolling stock that will be used to run them.

And I somehow doubt that Andy Burnham will be taking lessons from someone whose latest involvement with Labour was with the Scottish party in the run-up to May’s General Election. That went well, didn’t it? Some of these ex-advisors do get terribly bitter.


Anonymous said...

Burnham will do nothing on nationalisation. It's all hot air designed to get him more Labour votes.

Anyway, has everybody already forgotten the deaths caused by maintenance cuts after rail privatisation?

Renationalise the rail services in toto, no compensation except in cases of proven need. They've already had their profits. Let them swing for the rest of it.

Anonymous said...

McTernan's record in Australia is also poor, and he was an important part of the Labour election team in Scotland when Labour began to lose its grip on the Assembly. It is a mystery how he has become a Labour advisor.


Richard Gadsden said...

One small correction. There are some trains run by franchise operators that are in addition to their franchise obligations. Also, there are more trains that are in franchise agreements because the TOC put them in the bid, but in excess of the ITT minimum obligations that DfT set out for the bidder. For instance, the second London-Glasgow train every hour run by Virgin WC.

Railwayman said...

Excellent analysis, Tim. Read the Railnews blog this month:http://blog.railnews.co.uk/?p=276, which is an excellent antidote to the 'it was privatisation wot done it' brigade when it comes to rising passenger numbers. It seems that there are more fundamental changes behind the increase in passenger numbers- nothing to do with privatisation (or otherwise)

McTernan's comment about the staff, management and civil servants required to run a railway company would be a more valid criticism of the current structure. Lots of people are required to run a fragmented network and to ensure that commercial firms actually provide the service which is specified and funded by the government- after all, their aim is to make a profit. Burnham' s proposal unfortunately won't address this, but it's probably something worth looking at.

Hywel Mallett said...

Competition between train operators created new journeys. Like Wrexham to London with the specially created Wrexham and Shropshire.
How did that work out...?