Haigh: “Labour in power will bring our railways back into public ownership”

Louise Haigh

Below is the full text of the speech delivered to the Labour Party conference by Shadow Transport Secretary Louise Haigh in Liverpool this morning.

Thank you, Conference . It’s great to be together again and I have to say, it’s little short of a miracle so many of you managed to get here over the weekend given the current state of our public transport. Record delays, overcrowding, routes and services slashed week on week. We have a system where the public have come last for too long.  And we know there is too much at stake for the country and the climate to carry on with this shambles.

Where broken promises on public transport hold our country back. Where services connecting our major cities are slashed without warning by unaccountable private operators. And where the public pay ever more for less. Because if many millions –let down by services they can no longer rely on – cannot or will not use public transport then, quite simply, there is no path to net zero.  And we will never build the fairer, greener future our country demands.

That’s why my number one priority as your Secretary of State will be ending this spiral of decline on our public transport system. When the Victorians laid the foundations for our modern railway, it was a vote of confidence in Britain’s future. Today, there are new challenges that demand the same ambition.

No less than sixty times the Conservatives promised to connect our great Northern towns and cities and deliver Northern Powerhouse Rail. A once-in-a-century chance to invest in public transport – to transform opportunity across the whole country, rebalance our economy and take millions of cars off the roads. And they flunked it.

But while the Tories fail our country, Labour will seize this opportunity and lay the foundations for the century to come.  We will build an Elizabeth Line for the North and deliver Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2 in full.

But we know – we can only build a fairer, greener future by taking power from failing private operators and putting it back in the hands of the public. Avanti West Coast has become just the latest poster boy of the failing status quo. The worst performing operator in the country – half of all trains late, 60,000 complaints, and what have the Tories done in response?   They handed them £19m including – and you couldn’t make this up – £4m in performance bonuses. Out of the pockets of the public, and directly into the hands of shareholders.

Instead of holding those responsible to account for this fiasco – the Tories played their tired, old tune. They blamed the workers who keep our rail network going. But we know the truth conference. The workers aren’t failing the British public – the Tories and their disastrous rail system have catastrophically failed us all.

Under the Conservatives, British railways have become a cash machine for companies and foreign governments. No matter the performance, failure will always be rewarded. The truth is, the Conservatives still worship the dogma that has let this country down. They will always give the operators one more chance. And shareholders one more pay-day. They will do whatever it takes to prop up a failed system. Because to do anything else would be to admit their ideology is wrong.

Right across our transport system, we see the same failed dogma. No other country in the developed world allows private bus operators the power they enjoy here – to pick what routes they want and charge passengers whatever they wish. Entire communities cut off by decisions taken far away from the people they affect. 5,000 bus services slashed nationwide since the Conservatives came to power. Fares have risen twice as fast as wages. And who relies on buses more than anyone else – the poorest in society.

This cannot go on, things must change. And Labour in government will make sure they will.  We will put the public back in control of the essential public transport they depend upon. We will give those communities that want it the power to set bus routes and fares, following the path set by our brilliant mayors in Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire and here in Liverpool City Region. And we will end the ideological ban on communities establishing their own municipal bus companies.

Conference, the days of tinkering around the edges of a system that has so clearly failed the public are over. That’s why an incoming Labour government will end this farce. We will end this failed experiment. We will cast aside the tired dogma that has failed passengers. We will improve services and lower fares. And yes conference, Labour in power will bring our railways back into public ownership as contracts expire.

Because we believe in a public transport system where power is in the hands of the public.  A system that serves – above all else – the public interest. Where lower fares and more reliable services help reverse the spiral of decline. A system that can deliver economic, social and climate justice. Together, we can build it. So, now, let’s get out there, win power and make it happen!

More from LabourList


We provide our content free, but providing daily Labour news, comment and analysis costs money. Small monthly donations from readers like you keep us going. To those already donating: thank you.

If you can afford it, can you join our supporters giving £10 a month?

And if you’re not already reading the best daily round-up of Labour news, analysis and comment…