Monday, 10 February 2014

Keep East Coast Public - Protecting the People from Privatisation

The Coalition Government has published a shortlist of three contenders for the currently state-owned East Coast rail franchise, which carries passengers between London and Leeds/York and Glasgow/Edinburgh and points between.

East Coast came into being in 2009 when the previous private franchisee effectively collapsed. Since then, it has proven popular and more punctual than its private rivals, scored a significantly higher than average satisfaction rating and drawn on fewer subsidies than the profit-seekers who run all the other franchises in the UK.  

And there is the not inconsiderable point that it has earned over £800 millions for the taxpayer.

Green Party calls for renationalisation of Britain's railways.
But now it faces being sold of to one of First Group, Keolis/Eurostar or Stagecoach/Virgin, the very operators who are hoovering up public funds at nearly three times the rate in real terms that the former state owned national British Rail company required - indeed, the Green Party has estimated that the taxpayer would save over £1 billion a year if the franchises were all brought back into state hands as they expired. Little wonder many see the East Coast move as simply ideological on the part of the Tories and yet another demonstration of political vacuity on the part of their Lib Dem appendages.

The Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, who presented a rail nationalisation bill last summer, has now launched a Public Service Users Bill which aims to protect the public from privatisation of services in areas such as the NHS, education and transport. Devised in conjunction with the campaign group We Own It, Lucas's private members bill would:
  • Make public ownership the default option before any services, national or local, are contracted out to the private sector
  • Require there to be a realistic and thorough in-house bid whenever a service is put out to tender
  • Ensure there is full consideration of public opinion before any service is privatised or outsourced
  • Give the public a right to recall private companies running public services poorly
  • Require private companies running public services to be transparent about their performance and financial data (as in the public sector)
  • Make private companies running public services subject to Freedom of Information requests (as in the public sector)
  • Give social enterprises and mutuals, as well as public sector organisations, priority in tendering processes
We Own It have cited examples of how public services function best in public hands, contrary to the mythology perpetrated by usually privately owned mass media whose owners have direct interests in privatisation. East Coast is a fine example in itself - sadly, it is unlikely in the extreme that the Government will not sell it off to private hands, ending a brief but successful return to a public rail service. And with the Royal Mail sold off last year and more and more NHS services tendered out to profit seeking organisations like Virgin, the privatisation of the few remaining state assets we have is drawing every closer.

But this makes it all the more important to not give up the campaign to protect the services that remain in public hands and return the ones we have lost at the first possible opportunity. As with others before, Yorkshire & the Humber Greens were recently campaigning against the East Coast sell off at York station, one of the hubs for the company, and across the progressive and socialist political spectrum, trade unions and civil societies, the challenge now is to tear down the corrupt notion that companies seeking to extract profit from people should play any part in our public services.

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