On 1st March, 2015, The East Coast rail line returned to private hands.
Was there an overwhelming financial reason for this? Hardly! Over the last five years, under public ownership, over a billion pounds has been paid into treasury coffers as profit. Now, with privatisation, it is the shareholders of new joint owners, Stagecoach and Virgin, who will have juicy dividend payouts - monies which could have been used for reducing rail fares and improving services.
Someone who has long argued against this ideologically motivated sell-off is Peter Pinkney, the President of the RMT (Rail and Maritime Transport Union). To further this cause, Peter has joined the only political party arguing for an unequivocal return to public ownership of the rail franchises - and not only joined the party: he has become the Green Party parliamentary candidate for Redcar and Cleveland.
Peter's reasons for standing for the party expresses the sentiment of many recent converts. “I spoke at the Green Party Conference in 2013, and I was impressed with the ideas that were being put forward. The ideas of the Greens resonated with a lot of my beliefs. Obviously the Greens commitment to bring railways back into public hands struck a chord, but also policies to invest in the NHS, build social housing, institute higher taxes for those who can afford it, and put forward progressive policies on immigration informed my decision to stand.”
“If Ed Miliband is [more supportive of unions] then he is doing a strange impression of it. A minimum of 75% of people want to see the railways renationalised. He has never once said he would take the railways back into public hands - not even East Coast.”
Pinkney and Lucas
This last weekend, also saw Green Party members renew their campaign for public ownership of rail franchises. On the day that, Brighton Green MP, Caroline Lucas’s private member’s bill was being brought to the House, council candidates, Carla Denyer (Bristol, Clifton East) and Deb Joffe (Bristol, Windmill Hill), and others, leafletted outside Temple Meads station, as part of a national Day of Action across 48 railway stations over the UK.
Darren Hall, prospective parliamentary candidate for Bristol, West, said: “ Some of the UK’s most successful businesses are run as ‘not-for-profit' organisations, including the provision of public transport. However, the Government seems to have a blank spot when it comes to social enterprise and is doing everything it can do to tilt the playing field towards those with vested interests in the profit motive. Public transport should be just that: run for the public! Not for profit!”
Tony Dyer, PPC for Bristol, South: "If just a fraction of the billions of pounds of profits that have been stripped out of the industry under privatisation had been re-invested into a truly public serving railway, we would have the basis for a transport system that actually worked for those who rely on it."
Protester, and Clifton East, council candidate, Carla Denyer, said: "We have a huge problem with road congestion in Bristol. But all over the city we have a rail infrastructure that is underused due to lack of investment. The Severn Beach line from Avonmouth to Temple Meads is an amazing asset for the city, but we need it to run more reliably, more frequently, and later into the evening for it to be a viable option for hard-working commuters."
From East Coast, to Severn Beach, the call is for an integrated, intelligent approach to a planet-friendly transport system. In a recent Guardian poll, admittedly from a pre-selected group, barely 3% of those who voted wanted to maintain the current privatisation.
As Lucas has said: "Britain was once a world leader in transport thanks to our hugely successful railways. But today’s privatised system – characterised by poor services and some of the most expensive fares in Europe – is ripping off passengers, harming the economy and failing the environment."