No to na­tion­al­i­sa­tion

Rail (UK) - - Contents - An­drew Ro­den Con­tribut­ing Writer rail@bauer­me­dia.co.uk

Re­port by for­mer rail min­is­ter Tom Har­ris re­jects re­na­tion­al­is­ing Scotland’s Rail­ways.

A NEW re­port writ­ten by for­mer Rail Min­is­ter Tom Har­ris on the sub­ject of Scotland’s rail­ways re­jects the idea of bring­ing train op­er­a­tions into pub­lic own­er­ship.

Is Scotland on the Right Track?, pub­lished on August 20, sug­gests that mov­ing to a con­ces­sion model, rather than fran­chis­ing, could re­tain the ex­pe­ri­ence and dis­ci­pline of the pri­vate sec­tor, while ac­knowl­edg­ing the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the gov­ern­ment for the ser­vices a train op­er­a­tor pro­vides. The re­port was com­mis­sioned by Abel­lio, which op­er­ates ScotRail. Its au­thor stated it was “re­searched, writ­ten and man­aged in­de­pen­dently.”

In its rec­om­men­da­tion on the point, the re­port says: “Min­is­ters should be re­luc­tant to dis­pense with the proven ben­e­fits that pri­vate sec­tor in­volve­ment in the rail­way in­dus­try has brought pas­sen­gers. But if change is seen as nec­es­sary due to the re­duced pool of po­ten­tial fran­chise bid­ders and con­se­quent dearth of choice, and if po­lit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions man­date more po­lit­i­cal con­trol over ser­vices, they should con­sider, as a first al­ter­na­tive to the sta­tus quo, mov­ing to a con­ces­sion model in Scotland.”

The re­port points out that pas­sen­ger num­bers have dou­bled in Scotland over the past 15 years, and that fran­chises have played a key part in driv­ing that growth. Eighty per cent of pas­sen­gers sur­veyed for the re­port de­scribed their most re­cent rail jour­ney as ‘ex­cel­lent’ or ‘good’, with just 6% rat­ing it as ‘poor’. How­ever, while 45% were pos­i­tive about the value for money of­fered by fares, 54% were not.

Asked what their top three pri­or­i­ties for ex­tra spend­ing on Scotland’s rail­ways were, pas­sen­gers gave a rank­ing of 29% for in­vest­ment in more rolling stock, 28% for in­creased sub­sidy of fares and 27% for spend­ing more money on bring­ing rail­ways back into pub­lic own­er­ship.

When it was put to re­spon­dents that the Scot­tish rail net­work pri­ori­tises the needs of its pas­sen­gers, 42% said they nei­ther agreed nor dis­agreed, 28% dis­agreed and 13% strongly dis­agreed.

The re­port also sug­gests that Net­work Rail (de­scribed by Har­ris as “the largest in­hibitor of ScotRail’s ef­fi­ciency”) should un­der­take a “rad­i­cal re­or­gan­i­sa­tion”, un­der which lo­cal teams would take di­rec­tions from and seek to meet the aims of the lo­cally dom­i­nant train op­er­a­tor (in this case ScotRail). This struc­ture, it ar­gues, could lead to “a gen­uine shift in the ef­fec­tive­ness of Net­work Rail at a lo­cal level,” and as such it should be pi­loted in Scotland.

Har­ris is­sued a ri­poste to gov­ern­ment-led spec­i­fi­ca­tion of rolling stock too: “Those who pro­vide pas­sen­ger ser­vices are bet­ter placed than civil ser­vants or min­is­ters to judge what the most suit­able rolling stock is for a par­tic­u­lar ser­vice. In fact, they are bet­ter placed to judge what ser­vices need to be run and at what fre­quency.” How­ever, he also ac­knowl­edges that an en­tirely pri­vately-run ‘for profit’ sys­tem “would not meet the de­mands of pas­sen­gers in a mod­ern demo­cratic coun­try.”

The is­sue of de­vo­lu­tion is con­sid­ered: 73% of pas­sen­gers sur­veyed wanted exclusive Scot­tish gov­ern­ment over­sight of the rail­way, while 21% wanted UK and Scot­tish over­sight. Such views, it says, should be re­flected in fu­ture de­ci­sions about the struc­ture and own­er­ship of the rail­ways in Scotland.

Over­all, the pas­sen­gers sur­veyed set most pri­or­ity on the value for money and punc­tu­al­ity of ser­vices, and Har­ris says fu­ture in­vest­ment de­ci­sions should re­flect the views of fre­quent rail users and the gen­eral pub­lic, par­tic­u­larly in terms of rolling stock in­vest­ment and sub­sidy of fares.

Among the other find­ings of the sur­vey was that only 27% of reg­u­lar pas­sen­gers un­der­stand who is to blame when things go wrong on the rail­ways, and the re­port says that the gov­ern­ment and the rail in­dus­try should pro­vide more clar­ity, par­tic­u­larly about who pas­sen­gers should con­tact when prob­lems arise.

At the launch of the re­port,

Har­ris said: “When it comes to the rail­ways, bad news is big news and good news is no news. Because of that, we’d be for­given for think­ing that our rail­ways are a dis­as­ter, but this is man­i­festly not true. In fact, for the whole of this cen­tury we have seen a re­mark­able rail­way re­nais­sance.

“How­ever, there are prob­lems, and those prob­lems have led to some po­lit­i­cally charged calls for blan­ket na­tion­al­i­sa­tion. The Scot­tish gov­ern­ment should not ig­nore this, but also it should not throw the baby out with the bath wa­ter.

“If it feels the need to change the fran­chise model, it should con­sider mov­ing to a con­ces­sion model where the gov­ern­ment shoul­ders both profit and risk, but the pri­vate sec­tor runs the ser­vice.

“It would be ex­pen­sive, child­ish and coun­ter­pro­duc­tive to dis­pense with the clear and in­dis­putable ben­e­fits of pri­vate sec­tor in­volve­ment in our rail­ways, with­out which we would not have ex­pe­ri­enced the re­nais­sance we’ve seen.”

For­mer Rail Min­is­ter Tom Har­ris.

Three ScotRail Class 385s stand at East­field. The Hi­tachi EMUs are en­ter­ing traf­fic on the Ed­in­burgh-Glas­gow line fol­low­ing elec­tri­fi­ca­tion. A re­port by for­mer rail min­is­ter Tom Har­ris re­jects na­tion­al­i­sa­tion. SCOTRAIL.

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