STATE-OWNED East Coast Main Line is paying a quarter of a billion pounds back to the Treasury every year — but Tory ministers said yesterday that they are still hell-bent on privatising it.
New figures published this week are set to show that publicly owned East Coast paid the government £235 million in 2013-14 in premiums and dividends — an increase of 12 per cent on the previous year.
Labour ministers clawed back the network from the private sector in 2009 after two successive franchisees — Sea Containers and National Express — walked away, complaining that premiums were too steep.
The network’s success under state ownership has prompted calls for all rail franchises to be taken over by a reborn British Rail when they expire.
But millionaire ministers are set on throwing East Coast back to their privateer pals.
Embarrassingly for the Con-Dem coalition, the shortlist of preferred bidders for the new franchise includes Keolis, which is part-owned by French state railway SNCF, but not the British state.
Rail union RMT acting general secretary Mick Cash said: “It is a national disgrace that the government is continuing with its plans to bulldoze through the reprivatisation of the East Coast Main Line.
“It is simply ludicrous to even contemplate reprivatisation.
“Not only have there been two previous private-sector failures on the East Coast route, but the public-sector rescue operation has been a stunning success.
“The plans to hand this profitable and successful public rail operation back to the vultures are based purely on hard-right political ideology. RMT is committed to continuing the fight against them.”
But a Department for Transport spokesman made clear that the government would not budge.
“A strong private-sector partner will not only provide certainty of ownership for the East Coast franchise but will be best placed to build on the significant investment planned for the route, delivering benefits to passengers and taxpayers for years to come,” he said.
The news follows warnings from campaigners that a comprehensive review of franchising promised by Labour could be wrecked by vested interests and rightwingers in the party.
The government is set to announce the successful bidder for East Coast later this year.