The TSSA has called for clarity over reports that the government is preparing to nationalise the railways, demanding “unequivocal guarantees” from ministers that there will be no cuts to services.
In a letter to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps today, Manuel Cortes highlighted an article in the Sunday Telegraph, which reported that falling passenger numbers mean that it is “almost impossible for the railways to remain in private hands”.
The general secretary argued that “railways run by the state, for the good of the British people are now the only viable and reasonable way forward”, and urged Shapps to work with unions to bring the rail industry back into public ownership.
Usual passenger footfall on trains across the country fell to just 4% at the beginning of lockdown. As the restrictions have begun to ease this has risen only slightly, reaching 10% at the end of last month.
The government agreed in March to implement emergency measure agreements (EMAs) to subsidise and prevent the collapse of rail franchises. On average, each passenger journey during lockdown has cost the taxpayer £100.
Figures provided in June showed that the government had approved £3.5bn in additional subsidies under these EMAs to ensure that train operators could continue to function. The agreements are due to end in September.
The Sunday Telegraph reported on Saturday that the government is not planning to continue providing the extra funding from September, and suggested that this is “stoking suggestions that a full renationalisation is being orchestrated”.
Below is the full text of the letter sent by Cortes today.
Dear Secretary of State,
I know you will agree with me that our railways and wider transport network have been key in the fight against this terrible pandemic – allowing our NHS workers to get to their jobs and save lives.
We also know serious questions are being asked about the future of our railways, with many private franchises teetering on the brink long before Covid-19.
In recent days we have seen the Financial Times reporting that the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has reclassified our railways as being publicly owned, after your Department introduced EMAs at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
To date, the EMAs are estimated to have cost the taxpayer in excess of £3.5bn in order to stave off the insolvency of private companies on our railways.
The Sunday Telegraph (12th July) also reported:”The rail industry is bracing for full nationalisation as private forecasts show passenger numbers will not return to pre-pandemic levels for at least five years. The predictions, circulated among train operators last week, make it almost impossible for the railways to remain in private hands without continued significant taxpayer support.”
In short, railways run by the state, for the good of the British people are now the only viable and reasonable way forward. Our railways are simply too important to be allowed to fail – and the only way to ensure their future is to bring them into public hands.
Clarity on this point is urgently needed, and at the same time the British public need unequivocal guarantees there will be no cuts to the services we all rely on. For reasons related to healthcare, the economy and jobs we must be told what Government plans are for after September when the EMAs come to an end.
That is just a few short weeks away and there can be no pretence that it is any longer acceptable to continue lining the pockets of private operators – allowing shareholders to keep a 2% profit margin, and lavish salaries for board members, while the taxpayer foots the bill.
Our union has always stood foursquare against profiteering on our railways. However now is not the time for dogma and ideology – from any quarter. Rather, it is the time for leadership and putting the public interest above all other considerations.
Many times in recent weeks you have said you will work with our rail unions, and I have fully welcomed that approach. I ask now that you continue down that path so that together we can bring our railways into public hands for the long-term good of our country.
TSSA General Secretary