The success of East Coast shows that another model can work. And that’s why it terrifies the government

The government has pressed ahead with privatisation of the East Coast Mainline precisely because of its success.

East Coast ncr

The government has pressed ahead with privatisation of the East Coast Mainline precisely because of its success

It should be obvious by now that privatisation has become an end in itself for this government. This was demonstrated last year by the rushed privatisation of Royal Mail, sold at a fraction of its worth despite bringing in a significant profit to the taxpayer as a state-owned company.

We are told that we live in straightened times where government money is hard to come by; and yet state-owned companies that are making not insignificant sums for the exchequer are hastily being taken off the books and handed to the private sector. In these supposedly non-ideological times ideology is regularly trumping pragmatism.

The latest example of ideologically-driven stupidity is the flogging off of the successful East Coast Mainline to a consortium made up of Virgin and Stagecoach. Despite the not-for-dividend operator returning some £800 million to the taxpayer in the last financial year, the government has been seeking to return East Coast to private hands as speedily as possible. Today they’ve finally done it.

The absurdity of selling off East Coast was summed up last year by former minister for transport Sadiq Khan, who pointed out that, without privatisation, the money made from line could be reinvested ‘for the benefit of passengers’ – as opposed to shareholders of course.

And at a time of poor train services and huge subsidies for private rail providers, since the East Coast Mainline was taken into government hands not only has it returned the service to profit but it has simultaneously delivered a high level of customer satisfaction, as these excellent graphs from Ripped-Off Britain demonstrate:

East Coast

East Coast1

East Coast 3

The scale of East Coast’s success is all the more impressive considering the service was previously abandoned by a failing private sector – first by GNER in 2007 and then by National Express in 2009. Just as the government cannot allow banks that are ‘too big to fail’ to sink without trace, so it could not permit the companies that run our trains to fail – the consequences would be just too severe. As should be obvious to even the most fanatical libertarian, the railways can’t be turned off for a week on the ideological basis of ‘letting the market run its course’.

Along with it’s other achievements, the success of the East Coast Mainline has also rubbished the idea popularised by big business that success requires eye-watering rewards. According to their annual report, East Coast’s CEO earned £224.8k in 2013. If this sounds a lot, consider that the average pay of a FTSE 250 CEO stands at £1.3 million – and that’s before bonuses kick in.

This helps to explain why wrestling the railways out of private hands is a vote winner. According to recent opinion polls, over half the British public support full nationalisation of the railways. Even Conservative supporters want to bring the railways back into public ownership, with a majority saying that they would prefer nationalisation to the status quo.

Yet despite all of this the government has decided to press ahead with the sell-off of the line. Although I suspect it’s more revealing to interpret this in another way: the government is pressing ahead with privatisation precisely because of the success of the East Coast Mainline.

Is there anything, after all, that’s more damaging to the Conservative privatisation agenda than an example of a people before profit service that actually works?

James Bloodworth is the editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

39 Responses to “The success of East Coast shows that another model can work. And that’s why it terrifies the government”

  1. swat

    The irony of State owned French-German-Spanish company(s) running our trains absolutely appalls me. Next they’ll be insisting we all speak French German or Spanish before boarding their trains. No more curled up cheese sandwichs but caulslaw wursts and paela served on our trains.

  2. blarg1987

    I think we should watch this very carefully, get the names of the individuals and ministers who have said that the service would be better etc under private ownership.

    Following this, we should keep an eye on this and also executive appointments / minister / civil servant departures.

    If they end up on the board and we do and FOi that proves East Coast is not better in private hands, then there would be a very strong case to take legal action against the DfT or those individuals for corruption and fraud.

    Is LFF / anyone planning on setting up a fighting fund so we can proceed to that stage otherwise this will carry on. Until people are going to be prosecuted or actually locked up for shafting the tax payer, nothing will change. this will require an organisation to be set up to take the fight where it is not taken at the moment.

  3. robertcp

    A fanatical belief in privatisation has been a feature of British politics for at least twenty years. Brown’s reluctance to nationalise Northern Rock in 2007 was pathetic.

  4. Leon Wolfeson

    …You’d sue the minister, right?

    Which is problematical, legally, to put it mildly.

  5. Nick London

    You an expert in that too gooby? Your talents know no limits….

  6. blarg1987

    How is it a problem to sue a minister if there is evidence of corruption?

    MP’s can not claim parliamentary privilege if there is evidence of them breaking the law.

    And to be honest you will sue them after they have left office and taking up their post as a non executive director on a company that won the contract they were in charge of letting.

  7. Gegenbeispiel

    While I oppose privatisation vehemently, it’s not at all ironic that the contract went to the Continent. Railways are, like most industries, engineering driven and dominated and engineering is far more respected on the Continent than in UK. Etonian toffs committed to upholding tradition, manners and unwritten rules are hardly good material for that.

  8. Leon Wolfeson

    Basically, the British constitution. It may be corruption in your view, but there’s little a minister can do which is actually criminal as long as he’s acting within the scope of his mandate.

    And retrospectively? No, can’t see a case at ALL.

  9. Leon Wolfeson

    Oh that’s your name is it? k….so, Gooby, why are you asking yourself questions?

    And no, see, unlike you I don’t think I’m Superman. I just know something about the UK’s constitution, since it’s of interest to me.

  10. Nick London

    So you know about judicial review processes? Quick pass the Wikipedia. Lectures are all about prep g.

  11. blarg1987

    To sell of state assets for personal gain is not in any political mandate, it is corruption, pure and simple.

    You do not need retrospective laws, just easier to prosecute after they leave office as that is when there will be more evidence because they will be on the board etc.

  12. Leon Wolfeson

    Actually, that’s the quickest way to end democracy, by essentially making it illegal to lose power. What they are doing may be wrong, and corruption, but British law means it’s NOT illegal.

    If you want to CHANGE the law, argue for that!

  13. Guest

    g. / Nick – No doubt you need wikipedia for your research, as you make up some other unrelated nonsense.

  14. Nick London

    “I know you are but what am I”. That all you got g?

  15. blarg1987

    Can you send the link to the exact piece of legislation that says it is not illegal?

    And where have I implied that I want to end democracy?

  16. Leon Wolfeson

    Not how British law works.

    And your attempt to make it illegal to lose power, again. Look, the Tories could argue that i.e. nationalisation was “corrupt”…

  17. Guest

    g. / Nick – Why are you repeatedly spamming out posts where you talk to yourself?

  18. Guest

    Oh, and no surprise you’re against renationalisation, hence your attempts to stifle discussion with spam.

  19. Nick London

    Are you ashamed leon? Is that why you hide your posts?

  20. Nick London

    Why do you hide your posts leon? You know we see who they are from don’t you g?

  21. blarg1987

    If that is the case then MP’s would not have been prosecuted for fraud when claiming expenses, several were.

    British law means that if people are deliberately misled for personal gain they can be prosecuted for fraud, such as at the moment with Tesco’s where Fraud charges are likely to happen.

    I ask again, where have I said or implied that I want to make it illegal to loose power?

    Also it would be extremely difficult for the Tories to say nationalisation of state assets is corrupt as, MP’s don’t end up on boards of union directors etc.

  22. Leon Wolfeson

    That relates to personal actions, not official ones.

    And you can deny the results all you like – and sorry, no, it’d be very easy for them to do so. The CPS has shown it takes political direction.

  23. Guest

    Why do you use 20+ accounts, and ask yourself (g/goober, as you keep calling yourself) questions? Your accounts/personalities “all know”, as you spam for your beloved privatisation.

  24. Guest

    I’m not you no, and I am not using your tactic of using throwaway accounts like that one, LordBlagger.

    Keep spamming attacks for the greater good of your beloved privatisation, Tory.

  25. Nick London

    I don’t do that, you do know that don’t you? If I did, I would be literally every poster you rant at, almost every user of the site! I would frequently be engaging myself in fake conversation just to confuse you, wouldn’t i? But you do hide your posts don’t you, and you should ask,yourself why? Are you ashamed?

  26. Nick London

    Why do you hide you posts Leon? Why not answer?

  27. Nick London

    And I never called you goober, man.

  28. blarg1987

    I think it would be a weak defence to argue that create personal gain while in office was an official action.

    To extend that logic we would not be able to convict people at Tesco’s at the moment for fraud after all they were carrying out official actions to justify their bonus.

    Their is a substantial difference between ministerial action and personal gain. Ministerial action is to carry out a policy which you were voted in for on behalf of the electorate, personal gain is to carry out an action which benefits oneself at the expense of the country.

    If we look at other professions, people who are negligent or defraud companies get prosecuted for carrying out what is classed as official actions, yet we don;t say it is illegal for them to lose their jobs do we?

    Your point makes no sense.

  29. Leon Wolfeson

    There’s a legal difference between the actions of a Tescos workers and the actions of a member of the Cabinet, the executive body of the Privy Council.

    And you’re trying to create a differentiation which does not exist in British law about actions. Accountability for ministers acting officially is limited – they are responsible only in some fairly specific ways (collectively for general policy, individually for their their *department* and via questions in Parliament)

    Oh, there’s the Ministerial Code, but it’s not enforceable with criminal sanctions.

  30. Guest

    No, you said your name was Goober. So…

  31. Guest

    I know you’re lying, as usual – it’s you hiding and being ashamed, etc.

    And yes, I’m sure you do talk to yourself a lot, as you try and make excuses for your behavior.

  32. Nick London

    Why do you hide your posts? Why can’t you answer? You must see it looks like an illness? And if you genuinely believe that one person is responsible for every post telling you your behaviour is bizarre you must see that that demonstrates an extreme paranoia, itself something you should speak to someone about. In all honesty leon g, although I have thought you to be an annoying and obnoxious individual, I do hope you find the help you need, and wish you well, but If you are teaching students you should seriously consider whether you are in a fit mental state to do so. I hope you can reach out for help.

  33. Nick London

    You must see you behaviour like an illness? if you genuinely believe that one person is responsible for every post telling you your behaviour is bizarre you must see that that demonstrates an extreme paranoia, itself something you should speak to someone about. In all honesty leon g, although I have thought you to be an annoying and obnoxious individual, I do hope you find the help you need, and wish you well, but If you are teaching students you should seriously consider whether you are in a fit mental state to do so. I hope you can reach out for help.

  34. Leon Wolfeson

    Of course you see working as an illness. Only the peons do that, after all.

    You post the same shit over and over, using different user-names, and then spew this kind of nonsense when challenged, then say it’s “bizarre” that I can recognise your usage of the same words.

    You keep saying, again, identical to accusations before, that you’re out to as you screazm that holding views other that yours means I shouldn’t be teaching, as I won’t embed them with your far right hate.

    Your “honest” social darwinism and totalitarianism is yours, LordBlagger, as you spam again, this time for your beloved privatisation as you try and silence me. again. The “help I need”, i.e. for far right thugs to beat my face in…

  35. Nick London

    I have thought you to be an obnoxious individual, as I say, but it is now clear that you are delusional and I do hope you find the help you need, and wish you well. If you are teaching students you should seriously consider whether you are up to it and I hope you can reach out for help.

  36. Leon Wolfeson

    You’re spamming me with copy/pasted crap, LordBlagger, again, using your “Nick” username today.

    You are saying that because I am not far right, I’m “delusional”, as you say that not being far right makes me mentally ill and demand that only your far right be allowed in teaching.

    All to cover your support for private rail.

  37. Guest

    Of course you call disagreeing with your far right an “illness”, as you spam for your views, and spew a litany of accusations.

    False accusations of mental illness are your staple, LordBlagger. As is your spam.

  38. blarg1987

    However an MP could still be prosecuted under misconduct in public office under abuse of the public’s trust.

    What we need to do is test case and take it form there, that is something that at the very least should be tried.

  39. Leon Wolfeson

    It’s a breach of a duty of employment, not a duty to the public.
    You’re reaching, very badly.

    The case of Damian Green is one in point. Tony Benn objected strongly there, I note.

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