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A perverse privatisation

Another public company under the Hammer

It takes a particularly perverse government to do away with a public company that regularly hands over £150 million a year to the exchequer, peaking this year at £208 million.

But that is precisely what the conservative coalition running this country plans to do.

Tory and Liberal Democrat ministers are united in their determination to place as much of the economy as they can in private hands, irrespective of the negative effect on the taxpayer.

Directly Operated Railways, which has stepped into the breach twice to run East Coast Main Line after private train operating companies pulled the plug on their contracts, consistently outperforms the privateers.

DOR delivers a better return to the public purse than self-publicist Richard Branson's much-touted Virgin outfit on the West Coast Main Line.

The public company has achieved the highest passenger density of any operator, the best train punctuality, best customer satisfaction and the highest level of key indicators for the route relating to safety and the environment.

DOR has turned round a safety culture deteriorating under private ownership and driven up employee engagement with the company.


This is reflected in a substantial reduction in sick absence, which often signifies staff alienation and low morale.

In any other sector of the economy a company showered with industry awards - no fewer than 37 - for safety best practice, people development, customer service, special projects, marketing and PR would be identified as a market leader to be emulated.

Not on our railways. Ministerial free-market zealots reject any model that does not deliver private profits and dividends.

Their approach is one of valuing neoliberal dogma over what works in the public interest.

DOR chairman Doug Sutherland observes diplomatically that the company's business plan includes "ensuring a successful transfer of the business back to the private sector - in good condition and maximising the value of the franchise achieved by the government and the taxpayer."

But he must know that privatisation for the third time will condemn East Coast Main Line to the time-dishonoured formula of profits at all cost and a worse service for passengers and staff.

The entire privatisation process was built on the lie of private-sector superiority in managerial expertise and economic efficiency.


If the private sector is superior in any fields, it's in extending its arm for the government's funding drip-feed and transforming state subsidies into shareholder dividends.

When the profits are rolling in during the early years of franchises and repayments to government are moderate, privateers are happy to run rail services.

But as repayments rise in the latter part of a franchise they have shown themselves adept at handing in the keys and simply walking away from their responsibilities.

Even more shameful than that, government has encouraged such irresponsibility by refusing to attach consequences to such dereliction of duty, allowing parent companies to hold on to other franchises and to bid for others.

Seven out of 10 people in Britain have had enough of the scandalous corporate profiteering from our railways, demanding the network's return to public ownership.

Labour wrings its hands over Con-Dem prioritisation of what it calls the "unnecessary" privatisation of the East Coast Main Line but it fights shy of answering the public's call to challenge the very essence of rail privatisation.

It's possible to take back our railways without breaking the bank, but the first requirement is having the political backbone to speak out for renationalisation.


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