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New deal for overhaul of ‘failed’ railways

25 July 2014

Labour’s emerging Rail Policy - An update on developments following our Party’s National Policy Forum last weekend.

Our union held extensive negotiations to try and persuade the Shadow Front Bench to adopt our policy in favour of public ownership and  our member led delegation achieved much in this respect. Of course, our union will not be satisfied until public ownership of our industry becomes a reality!

As a result of what can best be described as ‘pressure cooker’ negotiations a new policy on the future of our railways is now starting to take shape. Significant players within the privatised industry are crying wolf. They claim that this will be a bad deal for passengers and taxpayers even though they are responsible for continuously ripping them off! You know, many of these private companies have no shame. However, it appears that they are rightly fearful that this particular gravy train may soon come to an end.

The new policy includes a commitment to put in place a new Railways Act to run our railways in the public's interest thus signalling the beginning of the end of the Tories failed privatisation experiment. We also successfully negotiated the removal of wording that would have committed our Party to a failed franchising or bidding process. Instead, we secured a commitment that reverses any presumption against the running of our railways by the public sector. The new policy highlights the ludicrousness of having state-owned companies from across Europe collecting massive subsidies from British taxpayers to help keep their fares low at home whilst we in the UK pay the highest in Europe.

I firmly believe that our union's campaigning, your hard work, our policy development initiatives and the leverage that our political strategy is delivering, is paying dividends. But there is still further to go - much, much further! We must now step up our campaign to ensure that the new public operator takes on lines as franchises expire. You know, the efficiencies that these reforms provide will be used to cap fares. However, our Party should go further by pledging to use these savings to cut or freeze them. This will help secure victories in many marginal constituencies.

We must build on this radical new policy which is a bold step in the right direction. Our campaigning work now begins in earnest as we seek to ensure that commitments given become reality on the ground and that we also push for those pledges to go further to give us a rail system which is fit for the 21st Century.

What is our Party committed to?

The manifesto will promise that the Labour Government will:

1. Legislate to create a new public body that will make our railways accountable to Parliament. This new body will act as a guiding mind for our industry by overseeing our railways and planning investment. It will bring together Network Rail with a new representative passenger body. To end costly fragmentation, the guiding mind will be responsible for routes and the co-ordination of services, overseeing stations, fares and ticketing, skills within our industry and ensuring customer satisfaction across the network;

2. Bring into being a public operator that can take on lines on a level playing field. This will stop privateers from running services at a loss to undermine the case for public ownership;

3. Review the failed franchising process. In line with our policy, we wanted a categoric assurance that the new public train operator will take on lines as franchises expire. After extensively pursuing this point throughout our talks, our Party agreed to include in their manifesto, 'that as a priority, an incoming Labour Government will review the failed franchising process and put in place a system that safeguards the interests of passengers and taxpayers';

Frankly, like you, I am disappointed that this doesn't fully meet our aspirations. As you know, any objective review which puts the public's interest first and seeks to secure value-for-money for passengers and taxpayers, can only rationally conclude that the new public operator should take on lines as franchises expire. However, privateers will not take this lying down. They will do all they can to try to skew this review. It is vital that we all now redouble our efforts in exposing what a broken scam franchising is – one that always benefits shareholders at the expense of passengers and taxpayers!;

4. Use cooperative principles to ensure passenger and employee involvement within transport delivery is increased giving them a much greater say in the industry in order to bring about democratic renewal and increased local accountability;

5. Devolve decisions over the running of regional and local services, including to Scotland and Wales so that areas can bring together trains, buses, ferries and trams into a single network. This far reaching element of the policy includes allowing Scotland and Wales to determine how they deliver their rail services. For example, they could choose to create their own public train operator or use the new public sector operator that our Party will create;

6. Tackle monopoly profits by rolling stock leasing companies by giving Network Rail, which will be in public ownership from this September, greater responsibility for developing a long-term plan for procurement and leasing of new trains. This will also help enhance our train building capabilities and be a boost for our manufacturing industry. Even the Tory-led Coalition has recognised the benefits of public procurement. That's why they allowed TfL to buy the fleet for Crossrail;

7. Offer a new deal on fares by capping annual fares rises on all routes and by simplifying the fare structure whilst also giving passengers a new legal right to the cheapest ticket.

The details of what exactly goes into the new Railways Act have yet to be finalised. However, our union will be pressing extremely hard to ensure the Bill is drafted in a way that fully reflects what has been agreed and most favourably encapsulates the spirit of the new policy. Our union will also be demanding that this legislation forms part of the first Queen’s Speech of an incoming Labour Government.

In the coming months, our union will be campaigning extremely hard to secure victory for our Party in 2015 and also to ensure that when in power, the new public train operator takes on lines as franchises expire. I firmly believe that by committing to this radical overhaul of our industry and to a new deal on fares, it makes it easier for Ed Miliband to get the keys to number 10! I look forward to campaigning with you to make our railways fit for the 21st century.

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