Keep the East Coast Main Line in public ownership!

At September’s full council meeting, Nigel Bagshaw, our green transport spokesperson, very eloquently spoke in favour of retaining the East Coast Main Line in public ownership. This was in support of a Labour motion (text available in the meeting’s agenda papers) stating the Council’s support for the current publicly owned operator, InterCity East Coast.  Greens have long supported rail renationalisation, and Nigel gave several reasons why this is a principled, yet also pragmatic and cost-effective position.  Here is the text of his speech, and some additional information about the East Coast Line.

“The saying goes ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ and that’s precisely what applies in this case.

Since the East Coast franchise returned to public ownership in 2009 both passengers and taxpayers have had a better deal.  Passenger satisfaction levels are the highest on record, punctuality and reliability have improved and journey numbers and revenue have grown.  In fact Directly Operated Railways is outperforming private franchises.

A report by the Office of Rail Regulation highlighted the line as the most cost efficient – “the most efficiently run rail franchise in terms of its reliance on taxpayer funding”, according to the Financial Times

So what sort of logic is it that would have the East Coast Mainline re-privatised?

The arguments based on diversity, competition and open markets have shown to be unfounded by the failure of the two previous private operators.  Ministers’ claim that a new owner would boost investment has been completely undermined by the Department for Transport’s acknowledgement that capital spending comes from Network Rail, the track operator.

The economic orthodoxy which views the private sector as good, public as bad and sees privatization as a driver of greater efficiencies within industries and as a way of boosting overall growth within a nation is clearly flawed.  The idea that in private hands our public services are more efficient, more responsive and more competitive has been proven to be a myth here, as it has in so many other areas.

Not only that, if the Government hands the franchise back to a profit-making company then it will be much harder to improve the railways in the future by running them publicly.  It will also be much harder to keep fares down for the travelling public because of the need to pay dividends to private shareholders.

And that will have a direct effect on people travelling to and from Edinburgh and Scotland in general.

So, if we look at the evidence and set aside pure ideology then it’s clear that the East Coast Mainline should remain in public ownership. We support measures to ensure that it does any we will therefore be supporting this motion.”

Some facts and figures:

  • InterCity East Coast has been in public ownership since 2009, after two previous operators (private companies) withdrew from the franchise due to financial difficulties
  • The East Coast Line has received the lowest subsidy of any other operator, and returns more money to the Government than any other operator
  • The not-for-profit operator has delivered £800 million to the Treasury since 2009