Tories’ East Coast con
As Mandy Rice-Davies said about another Establishment insider’s stitch-up, “Well, he would, wouldn’t he?”
The Transport Secretary said that the deal would be worth £3.3 billion over eight years to the exchequer even though the Stagecoach-Virgin consortium spoke of just £2.3bn.
McLoughlin insisted that the new entity “will provide 50 per cent more capacity across the East Coast network, a 40 per cent increase in the peak seats to and from King’s Cross and a refurbishment of the existing fleet.”
Talk about overselling a dodgy deal. Extra capacity and more modern rolling stock have nothing to do with the Inter City Railways bid.
New trains were ordered years ago and won’t belong to the lucky franchise, while all track improvements will be financed by the taxpayer.
Tories are utterly incapable of making an honest case for privatisation, so McLoughlin has plagiarised Tony Blair’s ploy of replacing facts with statements of personal conviction.
“I believe Stagecoach and Virgin will not only deliver for customers but also for the British taxpayer,” trilled the Transport Secretary.
His personal beliefs are anything but cast-iron guarantees.
They have less substance than the evidence of past history that has given the lie to every claim made by the political charlatans who robbed the people of Britain of their collective wealth by flogging it off to their mates in the City.
What gravity does McLoughlin’s professed belief have against the fact that similar codswallop was spewed out when our railways were first privatised?
Promises that the state subsidy would be phased out were contradicted by its steady inflation. Pledges of improved services, lower fares and better health and safety went the same way.
The conviction held by privatisation opponents that the public sector is more efficient and reliable than the profiteers is not a religio-political article of faith.
It’s been demonstrated consistently over the past five years on the East Coast mainline where DOR has run the service and will have handed over a billion pounds to the Treasury by the time it is kicked into touch next spring.
That’s £1bn in actual cash, not McLoughlin’s £3.3bn pipedream or the franchisee’s £2.3bn.
We have seen before what happens when private consortiums encounter financial problems.
They hold the franchise for the early years while payments to the Treasury are small and profits high before walking away from the table when asked to meet their commitments.
It was GNER in 2006, followed by National Express in 2009. Next?
Even if Inter City Railways goes belly up, it won’t cost Virgin or Stagecoach a bean because this is a stand-alone company.
Once again it would fall to the public sector to pick up the pieces. No-one should be amazed by this.
Privatisation is not about improving public services. It’s about enabling private companies to milk the public purse.
Shadow transport secretary Michael Dugher is right to say that the travelling public has again been sold down the river through a rigged franchise operation.
But Labour will never be taken seriously in its rail privatisation criticism until it summons up the political courage, as Scottish Labour deputy leader candidate Katy Clark did yesterday, to plump unequivocally for returning the industry to the public sector.
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