On Grayling and grey areas: The East Coast ‘nationalisation’ isn’t all it seems

The government have managed to outsource our 'Operator of Last Resort' to yet more private sector firms.

Unions, campaigners and the opposition have all welcomed the government’s decision to take the flailing East Coast franchise back into public ownership, with even the Lib Dems are now saying the line should stay ‘permanently’ in government hands. 

The government have removed the franchise from Stagecoach and Virgin, and with no bidders coming forward the Conservatives have been forced to ‘nationalise’ the line. Unite say the move is the ‘end of the line’ for privatised rail.

All well and good. But while I hate to be the bearer of bad lefty news, it turns out the government operator has itself been outsourced into a million pieces.

A group of companies – the ‘London North Eastern Railway’ – will in fact be running the network, ‘helping Grayling further to his agenda of a railway run by public-private partnerships,’ according to public ownership campaigners We Own It.

Transport Secrertary Chris Grayling announced on Thursday that “When it is fully formed the new LNER operation will be a partnership between the public and private sectors.”

The consortium appears to involve Arup, SNC-Lavelin and Enst & Young running many of the government-body’s functions.

In January the Independent reported that Grayling was assembling the operation, amid fears and doubts over several franchises’ futures.

Shadow transport secretary Lilian Greenwood told the site at the time that the changes have led to “the absurd situation of contracting out our in-house operator capacity”.

Campaigners are now calling for the operator of last resort to be brought into full public ownership.

Cat Hobbs, Director of We Own It, said:

“We’re absolutely thrilled that the government has decided to take the East Coast line into public ownership. This is a big victory for our campaign and we’d like to thank everyone who gave support and took action…

“East Coast has failed three times in private hands and it’s right that Grayling isn’t both bailing out Stagecoach and Virgin and letting them dictate the terms of their contract.

“However, we need to be clear that the operator of last resort has itself been privatised, so there will be a hotch potch of private companies involved – Arup Group, SNC-Lavalin and Ernst and Young…

We’ll keep campaigning to bring the whole railway into public ownership – and make sure it really is public.”

We Own It has been leading the campaign for public ownership of the East Coast line, together a whole host of unions and activists.

It seems there’s still a way to go before they win. But at least we can finally see light at the end of the tunnel…

Josiah Mortimer is Editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

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