Help Labour halt the Government’s privatisation of East Coast

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East Coast Rail

This week, Labour launched a petition to halt the privatisation of the East Coast franchise, which has already been signed by thousands of people. This follows the Survation poll that showed the majority of the public opposes the Government’s plans to privatise the East Coast mainline.

GNER was the first company whose franchise on the East Coast collapsed.  This was quickly followed by the collapse of the National Express East Coast franchise in 2009, which left the railway lacking investment and with decreasing passenger satisfaction and performance.  The then Secretary of State for Transport, Andrew Adonis put this basket-case franchise back into the public sector.

Since then, Directly Operated Railways has successfully operated the East Coast service, achieving record performance and passenger satisfaction whist investing in services and delivering below average fare increases.  Crucially, since 2009, East Coast trains will have returned over £1bn back to the Treasury and taxpayers by the time the new franchise begins.

Despite this impressive record, the Government has pursued an ideologically driven, politically rigged timetable to ensure that the East Coast franchise is re-tendered back to the private sector ahead of the General Election in order to undermine our public operator.  It is absurd that whilst every other train company in the world, including the European state operators, were able to compete for this service, our own successful public sector operator was barred.

Last week, I demanded that Ministers come to the House of Commons to explain this decision as it is clear the travelling public are being sold down the river.  This whole franchise process should not have happened.  Instead, David Cameron’s Government should have been putting the public interest first and working to get a better deal for passengers by reviewing the franchise system.

This week, I have challenged the Transport Secretary again in the House to explain to the thousands of signatories of Labour’s petition how it can be justifiable to deny our own public sector operator the ability to challenge to run the East Coast Mainline – something afforded to every other rail company.

There are still many questions for this Government to answer in relation to the East Coast, such as: Why the discrepancy between Patrick McLaughlin and his chosen bidder in the figures the Treasury is set to receive?  How can the Transport Secretary be certain of value for passengers now that one company will be operating each of the three main North/South rail lines?  And how can Ministers be certain that passengers on the East Coast will not be hit by the type of fare rises we have seen on the West Coast?

This is not the first franchise fiasco this Government has presided over.  We all remember the West Coast competition, which cost the taxpayer over £50m, and the ensuing direct awards to private operators that are thought to have cost us well over £300m in lost revenue.

Labour will continue to push the Government to reverse this decision before the contract is signed and stop the privatisation of the East Coast Main Line.  I hope you join with us and show your support for publicly accountable rail by signing our petition and letting David Cameron know that this is a damaging decision for passengers and taxpayers alike.

Michael Dugher is Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

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