Ten Minute Rule Motion: Railways (Public Sector Operators)

Full text of speech given in House of Commons by Andy Sawford introducing his 10 minute rule bill on rail ownership.


I beg to move, that leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Railways Act 1993 to permit a public sector railway operator; and for connected purposes.

Mr Speaker, twenty years after privatisation, it is clear that passengers are getting a raw deal.

The Tories botched privatisation in the 1990s has led to a fragmented railway that is less efficient to run and more expensive to use than other networks across Europe.
The franchise process simply does not work in its current form. The collapse of the West Coast franchise at a cost of more than £55 million to the taxpayer shows just how broken the system is, and on the East Coast, where a public operator has performed really well, they are banned by law from seeking to carry on as the operator. How can it be right that East Coast is the only operator in the world that cannot bid to run this service in the future despite a track record of success?

East Coast shows that a public option can work on our railways: every penny of profit they make has been reinvested back in the service, including a £3.3 million upgrade to Peterborough Station in 2012, to which East Coast contributed £1.3 million. But instead of continuing this success story the Government wants to re-privatise East Coast at an estimated cost of £6 million – money that would be better spent on improving the service, rather than satisfying the Tory obsession with privatisation.

Labour is the only party with a plan to reform the railways and put passengers first, and I am very pleased with this Bill today to support the brilliant work of my Honourable Friends the members for Nottingham South and for Wakefield, the Shadow Rail Minister and Shadow Transport Secretary who have set out the reforms we need
The next Labour government will

  • Review this Government’s failed franchising process as a priority
    And after the chaos of recent years we will Act to safeguard taxpayer and passenger interests by putting in place a system that is fit for purpose
  • We will learn the lessons of East Coast, where we have seen the benefits of a not-for-dividend operating running rail lines, by legislating to allow a public sector operator to be able to take on lines and challenge the train operators on a genuinely level playing field in the public interest
    This will help to secure value for money for passengers and taxpayers.
  • And as a Co-operative MP I am pleased too that the next Labour Government has pledged to explore cooperative and mutual solutions and the benefits of cooperative principles to ensure that passenger and employee involvement within transport delivery is increased by giving them a much greater say in the industry.
    The reports ‘Rail Cymru’ and ‘A Peoples Rail for Scotland’ by the Co-operative Party explore options for Scotland and Wales
    And as a localist I am pleased that Labour is committed to devolve decisions across all areas of the UK over the running of regional and local services so that areas can bring together trains, buses, ferries and trams into a single network.
  • We must tackle the monopoly market for rail rolling stock by giving Network Rail greater responsibility for developing a long term plan for procurement and leasing of new rolling stock.
  • We will create a new guiding mind for the railways, bringing Network Rail together with a new representative passenger rail body to
    contract routes, co-ordinate services and skills in the industry, oversee stations, fares and ticketing, and ensure customer satisfaction across the network.
  • And we will ease the pressure on fare payers with the efficiencies these reforms release and by capping annual fare rises on every route,
    simplifying fare structures and creating a new legal right to the cheapest ticket.

Local context

I know these proposals will be welcome by lots of my constituents. Corby and East Northamptonshire is served by both private and public sector rail operators. The contrasting experiences of my constituents show the need for my Bill.

In Corby, which is served by East Midlands Trains, we recently celebrated 5 years since Labour opened the new railway station. Corby is the fastest growing town in the country. Use of the station has doubled since it was re-opened in 2009.
We are only 70mins on the train from St. Pancras. The station is a symbol of Labour’s investment in the regeneration of Corby and has been a big boost to the local economy.

Corby was famously the largest town in Europe without a railway station. The new station was campaigned for by the former Labour MP, Phil Hope and by Labour Councillors, and delivered by a Labour Government. Now we are working to increase the frequency of trains and for new north-bound services. But whilst we celebrate the station, we cannot celebrate the fares that passengers face – they are way too high and price out many people.

A constituent told me that he had a medical appointment in London but he didn’t know how he was going to find over £100 to get there. A Corby to London season ticket now costs £7,400 and an open return is £105.50.

Over the East Northamptonshire side of my constituency, many of my constituents – such as those living in the town of Oundle and in Warmington and other villages – travel from Peterborough station, which is on the East Coast line. Whilst the cost of fares is still high, the rate of their increase is hugely significant. Since 2010, a Standard Anytime Open Return ticket to London has increased by £12, or 14%. In Corby, since 2010 the equivalent fare has risen by £20, or 24% – almost twice the rate of increase as on the East Coast.

This year East Coast has raised its fares by an average of 1.21% – representing a genuine, real terms cut in the cost of living for passenger. No private franchise has taken this step. It would be fair to say that many of those using Peterborough station still feel fares are too high, but by comparison East Coast is keeping fares down, and more than that, East Coast is performing better for passengers. It has achieved record passenger satisfaction and punctuality rates since 2009.
introduced almost 7,000 more trains per year and 500,000 more passengers are travelling on the franchise.[1]

East Coast has partly funded and helped deliver a major programme of stations upgrades, including a £3.3 million upgrade of Peterborough Station in 2012, to which East Coast contributed £1.3 million. It is also performing for the taxpayer, returning over £800million to the Treasury.

Any passengers and the employees who have worked to make East Coast a success in public hands cannot understand why the operator is prevented from challenging to take on running other lines, let along Banned from continuing to operate on the East Coast line.

Because of the Tory rules we have a situation where you can be a European public rail company and run lines but our own British–owned operator is unable to run lines in the future. I completely agree with my Honourable Friends for Wakefield and Nottingham South – instead of Tory dogma and obsession with privatisation, we need a different approach that puts the public interest first, reverses the presumption against the public sector and properly serves the passenger.

It is time for reform

Reform to an industry that sucks up a vast amount of subsidy and seems loathe to invest it back in to the service they are the custodian of.

Reform of an industry where there is no redress for passengers when they are stung by ever increasing fare hikes.

The Tories and Lib Dems are wedded to the status quo; only Labour has a plan for reforming the railways.

A new model with a strong voice and control from the people who pay for the railway – the taxpayer and the farepayer. A strong voice for employees – who stay working on the railway no matter the colour of uniform or paint on the trains.

The next Labour government will review the failed franchising process and put in place a system that is fit for purpose; legislate to allow a public sector operator to be able to take on lines; devolve decisions over the running of regional and local services so that areas can bring together trains, buses, ferries and trams into a single network; tackle the monopoly market for rail rolling stock; address the cost of living by capping annual fare rises on every route, simplify fare structures
and create a new legal right to the cheapest ticket.

This Bill is just the first step to a railway where passengers are put first