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Exclusive: Shutting door to nationalisation ‘fetters’ rail review and constrains expert advice, says Burnham

The Greater Manchester mayor has revealed he was disappointed in transport secretary Chris Grayling’s rail review, arguing that the government is limiting the review leaders by ruling out the possibility of renationalisation.

In an exclusive interview with RTM, Andy Burnham argued that it was wrong to rule out the option of partial or full renationalisation of railways around the country, as it limits the review’s ability of finding the best option for the future of Britain’s railways.

Earlier this month Grayling formally announced a major rail review into the franchising structure of the rail industry, following a scathing ORR-led report into the May timetable chaos which claimed that “no one took charge” when delays and cancellations disrupted networks around the UK.

The review, which the transport secretary promised would “leave no stone unturned,” will be led by former British Airways boss Keith Williams and will be supported by an external panel of experts, including Roger March, who chairs NP11 – a body representing all 11 LEPs in the north of England.

In addition to a largely private-sector cohort leading the review, Grayling slammed the door shut on any potential recommendations for partial or full renationalisation, and instead is hoping for the review to look at ways of leveraging the commercial model to “more effectively balance public and private sector investment.”

Responding to the government’s stance, Burnham said: “I think it’s wrong to rule that option out. No criticism at all to any of the individuals who have been brought in to look at this review, but why fetter them in any way? Let them advise freely on what the best way to run a rail service is.”

Other countries around the world have led system reviews where they were able to make comprehensive changes to the market, the mayor added, suggesting that England should be given the same freedom.

“I’ll give you a direct example in a different mode: look at bus services in Greater Manchester when they were deregulated. We were promised that the market would lower fares, increase the number of services and routes, and improve the vehicles, but I’m afraid the opposite has been the case. I think the same is the case of the privatised railways. They’ve gotten more expensive, more complex; there have been some benefits, I would not deny that.

“The chaos that we saw [during the summer], and the difficulty in recovering from that chaos, says something about the flaws of the privatised rail system, and I’m just disappointed actually. While I welcome the review as far as it goes, I’m disappointed that they did not give the reviewers a completely free hand in terms of examining rail systems around the world, and deciding what’s best for this system.”

Burnham noted that renationalisation – a flagship policy of the Labour Party – “brings simplicity” back to the running of the system, arguing that it allows the public interest to reassert itself and take control over vested private interest.

He added: “I support renationalisation from the point of view of the need for integration, and one set of decisions taken over the running of a whole network. Transport systems are complex; if you take a complex system and then allow lots of vested interest to run different bits of it, then you increase the complexity – and that’s the story of this summer.”

Burnham will be delivering the keynote speech at TransCityRail next week. Click here to find out more.

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Image credit: Dominic Lipinski, PA Images


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