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Labour to back renationalising railways through break clauses before franchises expire

The Labour Party will clarify its plans for rail renationalisation today (29 September) after its National Executive Committee (NEC) announced that a Labour government would not wait until franchises expire before taking them over, as indicated previously.

At the Labour conference, the NEC will put forward a statement on rail demonstrating the party has firmed up its position in relation to leader Jeremy Corbyn’s renationalisation policies revealed by RTM last week.

According to the Guardian, the NEC statement will go further than last week’s policies, which proposed a fast-track to renationalisation by bringing one-third of franchises under public ownership by 2025 after they expired.

The Committee will now say that, if the party is elected in 2020, it will not necessarily wait until franchises expire before making services public. It would instead use “break clauses to intervene sooner”.

It will say that the party will set up a rail taskforce to develop ideas, such as “bringing private franchises into public ownership as they expire and also using break clauses to accelerate the process when this is in the interests of passengers and taxpayers”.

The taskforce will also create a "dynamic public operator" to reinvent private TOCs' profits into improving infrastructure and slashing fares.

The party has also announced it will oppose any attempt to privatise or dismantle Network Rail.

Lilian Greenwood MP, shadow transport secretary, said during the conference this morning: "We know that more fragmentation and more privatisation are the last things that passengers need. Conference, I promise you this. If they pursue the policy, we are not going to stand aside. So if they think they can get away with it, they can think again, because we are going to fight them every step of the way.

"The Tories have the wrong priorities for our transport networks. Those networks deliver for the many when they reflect Labour values. Now let’s make it happen."

The idea of using break clauses instead of waiting for franchise expiries was pushed by the TSSA union, whose general secretary, Manuel Cortes, told the Guardian that Labour should speed up renationalisation.

Only five franchises – East Coast, Southern, Chiltern, Northern and TransPennine Express – would be up for “full renewal” over the next Parliament (2020-2025) if no break clauses were used.

During the conference today, Cortes said: "I’m absolutely delighted that after years and years of campaigning the Labour party has finally seen sense and that we are telling the British people that there is clear red water between us and the Tories when it comes to our railways. We will be running our railways in the interests of passengers and taxpayers.

"Today, when you go for this [NEC rail] statement, we’re also the anti New Labour party, because privatisation, deregulation, they all come from the same neoliberal toolbox that gave us financial deregulation."

At the general election, the party was hesitant to back renationalisation plans in full and instead recommended that public TOCs should be able to bid for expired franchises alongside private companies, without being prioritised.

A spokesman for the Rail Delivery Group – representing Network Rail and TOCs – said the UK rail network is “vitally important” and better than others around the world because of the “winning combination of private sector competition and government funding”.

But Corbyn told the Independent that there was “overwhelming support from the British people for a People’s Railway, better and more efficient services, proper integration and fairer fares”.

He added: “On this issue, it won’t work to have a nearly-but-not-quite position. Labour will commit to a clear plan for a fully integrated railway in public ownership.”

The party’s taskforce to develop further plans will be headed by Greenwood, who will welcome contributions from transport and disability-access campaigners, passenger groups, councils, rail industry representatives and employees in order to establish an “inclusive process”.

Labour is set to consider the NEC statement this morning, and Corbyn will give his speech at 2.30pm in his first conference as party leader.


Pete Thorpe   29/09/2015 at 18:46

Will renationalisation include all of the signalling, p-way, electrification, E & P and civils design, installation and maintenance companies as well? If not, why not as these were all part of the previous nationalised railway, and if so how are they going to do that as many are part of global multi-discipline corporations based in other countries.

Neil Palmer   30/09/2015 at 01:13

Wasn't the whole franchise system and separation of track & train brought in to comply with EU laws/regulations in the first place? Has Labour forgotten something?

Joel   30/09/2015 at 10:56

All the EU requires, in over-simple terms, is the separation of wheel and track - no train operator may own, operate, amend, install or maintain infrastructure, thereby preventing any equality of access to all operators (of all classes of train) and in line with the EU principles of 'inter-operability'. The State can own both wheels (trains and train services) and track (infrastructure and stations) but both must be separate, in ownership structure and operation. This still happens in France and Germany among other EU member states!

Pedr   14/10/2015 at 22:53

There seems no ethical problem with the state owning the infrastructure and others running vehicles on it. The original British Railways trains were commonly not of the standard served by say, Virgin, today. That said, there are some discreditable corners run by Pacers or ancient 158s. Again, there are a few original companies that were never nationalised and which still seem to run acceptable quality services in remote places. Why meddle with them?

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