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ScotRail's People's Railway is possible

27 November 2017

TSSA commissioned report says ScotRail can be taken into public ownership by 2020.

TSSA is publishing a practical, expert guide on how best to nationalise ScotRail this week which proposes the creation of an arm’s length, publicly owned company based on models long used by other European countries as the most effective way for Scotland to run its rail services.


Launched in Edinburgh tomorrow (Tues) the report commissioned from Scotland’s leading think-tank, Common Weal is entitled, A Public Future for Scotland’s Railways. It showcases public ownership of rail as the start of an exciting transformation of Scotland’s entire transport system. Germany’s Deutsche Bahn, France’s SNCF, Italy’s TrenItalia and Finland’s VR Group are all cited as current precedents for the type of vibrant, passenger and tax-payer focussed rail firm now possible in Scotland.

The report reveals how rather than increase, under public ownership, rail fares in Scotland could fall immediately by at least 6.5%, with continuing year on year decreases in ticket prices as the fare revenues, currently the source from which profits are funded, are instead reinvested back into rail services.

It advises further strengthening and integrating he public ScotRail service by terminating current arrangements whereby carriages are leased from private, rolling stock operating companies and replacing them with in-house ownership and creating a collaborative, not-competitive, relationship with UK rail’s publicly-owned infrastructure body, Network Rail.

In contrast to “the monolithic, top-down management" of the former nationalised British Rail service, the report advocates a highly democratic model company in which passengers and workers have boardroom representing to ensure that both service users and employee interests are placed at the heart of Scotland’s future rail travel, design, governance and accountability to the public.

Commenting on the report, TSSA General Secretary, Manuel Cortes said, “There’s been a lot of aspirational talk about public ownership from Holyrood politicians but so far, no real action. This report was commissioned with the intention of filling that gap. It does a good job because it’s a practical how to guide to taking back control of ScotRail so it cannot just be an effective public rail service, but transform the future of Scotland’s entire economy.

“First, we need to take back the train operating company franchise from Abellio, then we bring the rolling stock back in-house and we begin restoring a strong, collaborative relationship with publicly owned Network Rail in a company whose governance structures put passengers and rail workers at the heart of Scotland's railways. It’s proposing nothing less than a Scottish People’s Railway as the most viable way of running Scotland’s railways.

“Since 1997 several hundreds of millions of pounds has been drained out of ScotRail in profit depriving it of significant investment funds. Gaining control of those revenues means a real long-term strategic rail plan for Scotland can be developed in conjunction with wider with economic, social, industrial and environmental strategies. The report’s scope is on public ownership of ScotRail but it’s reach, if implemented, could be truly transformative for the whole of Scottish society.

"Transport Minister, Humza Yousaf has suggested a move to public ownership by 2020 is too ambitious. But this report shows it just a matter of political will to make it happen. Under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is already committed to bringing our railways into public ownership. South of the border of course, the Tories fight their ideological was to keep the trains privatised. But up here, this report shows there is nothing to stop the SNP now but themselves from taking a lead in this no-brainer, common good direction.”

Said Robin McAlpine, Common Weal Director: “It’s time to be honest about what the current arrangements for trains in Scotland means. Passengers pay a very large sum of money to pay for unnecessary tendering and shareholder profits to create the impression that there is a market in rail fares which is pushing down costs.

“But there isn’t a market in rail fares reducing costs, just one private monopoly for ten years then another private monopoly for ten years. Every time you spend ten pounds to go by train in Scotland you’ve paid 65p purely to make a private profit for a private company which is already receiving the highest rail subsidy in Britain. It makes no sense whatsoever, unless you are a shareholder or a political ideologue. This report is a case study of political obsession being put before the interests of taxpayers or passengers.”

"Our view is the franchise system should be replaced with a national rail service that aligns operations with network infrastructure, creating a coherent public rail system that brings Scotland more into line with European norms. But at the earliest available opportunity, ScotRail must be brought back into public hands."

Following the launch, Manuel Cortes has been invited to a private meeting with Scottish Transport Minister, Humza Yousaf to brief him personally on the reports contents.


Note to desks:

The launch will take place at Serenity Café Meeting Room,The Tun, 8 Jacksons Entry, Edinburgh EH8 8PJ. (3 minute walk from the Scottish Parliament) at 11am for an 11.30am start.

Director of Common Weal, Robin McAlpine, and TSSA General Secretary Manuel Cortes will present the report’s findings alongside contributions from invited representatives of political parties who will be responding to the report.

Further useful copy points from the report:

“ScotRail is one of the most highly subsidised franchises in the UK – in 2015-16, Abellio Scotrail received £293 million in direct government funding, amounting to nearly 45.6% of its total income.” (Since privatisation in 1997) operators of the ScotRail franchise have made consistent annual operating profits of £10-20 millions

“As of 2016, however, the Scottish Government can fund and entertain public-sector bids for the ScotRail franchise due to expire in 2025, but could be as soon as 2020 (with the new operator beginning in 2022) if Abellio is judged to be failing to meet its contractual obligations.

Full report as PDF   A Public Future for Scotland's Railways

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