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Issue #1623      January 22, 2014

East coast vultures

BRITAIN: Blinkered Tories pressed ahead with the sale of profitable publicly owned East Coast mainline with a shortlist of three private bidders unveiled. Among them were partnerships between some of the big transport firms already running other shambolic and overpriced rail routes across Britain.

Tory Rail Minister Stephen Hammond confirmed that the franchise will be handed to either First Group plc, Keolis/Eurostar or Stagecoach/Virgin.

Unions and other groups have been campaigning for months to halt re-privatisation of the franchise, which has been publicly run since 2009.

Previous private operator National Express “handed back the keys” after defaulting on a payment that had been due to the government.

Under public ownership it has scored the highest ratings for punctuality and customer satisfaction of any long-distance route. It was also the only rail franchise to announce price freezes or below-inflation rises on many of its 2014 fares.

And it has made big returns for the taxpayer too, with around £800 million being returned to the government. But the government has been racing to re-privatise the line before the next election in what rail union RMT said was “an ideologically motivated decision.”

The new franchise is scheduled to start early next year.

Mr Hammond brazened out criticism of the sell-off plans. “For our railways to continue to grow we need strong private-sector partners who can invest and innovate in ways that deliver a world-class service,” he blustered.

However, rail union TSSA said the sell-off was “nothing short of economic vandalism by a Chancellor who does not want voters to know the truth.”

“It is a public-sector success story,” said general secretary Manuel Cortes.

“It has been the cheapest franchise to run for the past five years and it has produced the greatest return to taxpayers, over £600 million.

“By selling it off before the election, he wants to hide those facts.”

RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: “This government is prepared to take a third gamble on its big-business friends in a desperate bid to privatise the East Coast mainline before the election, even though they are well aware that the whole reckless exercise will cost the British public hundreds of millions of pounds in lost income.”

And train drivers’ union Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan said he was “disappointed but not surprised.”

He said: “In their rush to re-privatise, the government has trampled over the views of the people who live along the East Coast route, who it promised to consult and the stakeholders, who want to keep the East Coast in public ownership and they will lose a public-sector comparator against which we can judge the performance of the private operators.”

Morning Star

Next article – War from above

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