How do we fix the British railway and transport system? This is the issue our editors fact this week at POI, particularly the privatisation of Britain’s rail system.
Privatisation occurred between 1994 and 1997, and saw the ownership and running of the British rail system pass from the hands of the government over to privately owned companies.
For the majority of the 20th century, the British Rail network was government owned. In his party’s 1992 manifesto, John Major proposed the privatisation of British Rail, selling the idea by saying privatisation would bring lower fares, greater customer service and increased investment.
Privatisation has lived up to some of these promises. For example, overall satisfaction with the rail system has increased from 76% in 1999 to 83% in 2013. Also, a study from the European Commission revealed Britain had the most improved railway network in Europe from 1997 – 2012
Inevitably, Privatisation is not without its downfalls. It has received criticisms from many different groups, including passengers, labour unions, and even some MPs. A select committee in the House of Commons described privatisation as “fundamentally flawed” and also said it was high risk as government must use tax payer money to bail companies out if they go bankrupt.
The prospect of re-nationalising the system was reintroduced recently and was part of Labour’s manifesto at the recent election.
Privatisation vs nationalisation is very clear cut along party lines in the UK, and thus one’s political leaning is likely to sway their attitude towards it, making it an interesting topic for the editors to debate.
Written by POI correspondent, Emer Kelly
Get your brooms, because it’s a mess – Liberal Article
One of my favourite films has to be The Campaign. It should be dreadful, yet it so brilliant sums up American politics, producing a mixture of witty and simultaneously over the top humour that weirdly works well together. Will Ferrell is certainly not my go to actor for humour, but the film makes me laugh non-the-less. Why am I talking about The Campaign at the start of an article about the train system in the UK? Well that is a very simple question to answer. It has a great quote that is needed for this situation,’Bring your brooms, because it’s a mess’. I could not sum it up better than that.
The failure of the franchising system implemented in 1993 is poor, the privatisation of National Rail as well, has been dubious and is starting to fall apart causing a number of the problems we deal with. I haven’t even begun to talk about the ridiculous plan to introduce HS2. The conversation never expands past the typical ‘the trains are dreadful today’ with the standard reply ‘they always are’. It is so poorly organised and I am not surprised I see the results so bluntly whenever I travel.
How do we fix this? I think the problem is clear, we are caught in a 50/50. We kind of want to nationalise whilst at the same time we want to privatise. We are caught on the fence and to be honest, so am I. Either method could work. ‘Typical Liberal on the fence’ I hear you cry? Yes that might be true, but this is the beauty of POI. I have two other editors writing with me, Miss Jewell who will support nationalising the trains and Mr Kane who will want more privatisation. So, I want to explain why the trains are so bad for you, and why actually both methods could work. But, we need to choose one.
We currently have a franchising style system implemented for our trains at the moment. This has had a very mixed reception in recent months, with a number of fingers being pointed to the franchises. Now, I will say it isn’t all their fault. In fact one could argue they’re being hard done by. FirstGroup, the owners of GWR, sacked their Chief Executive after a loss of £327 million last year.
You could treat them either as the victim or the problem. If you prefer the former, you would argue they have a lack of control, which makes them unwilling to invest. They can lose their contracts very easily, so to ensure competition, whilst also having little control and ability to make a profit as most of this process is still controlled by the Department for Transport. The DFT sets their timetable, the conditions that they need to run at ect. Therefore, more privatisation is required to give incentive for investment for the franchises.
However, if you want to blame them, then I could also understand that. Trains are a public commodity, and they should be trying to stick to the basic conditions given by the government. If they where replaced by government controlled trains, perhaps the system work much stronger? Although that is up for debate.
Where privatisation has also taken place with interesting effects is the National Rail. How many times has your train been delayed because of a signal failure? Well you can thank National Rail. Under the Conservative government, they have gone through a transition of privatisation for National rail, however, as we approach CPR 6, 2020, National rail is in poor shape, running out of money and having a net debt of £53.7 billion in debt.
It is not currently fully privatised, as it is still government run, and one could argue that it not being fully privatised is the problem for its failure. However, more likely, its recent strides into privatisation have failed, and the way it is being run and lack of budget is letting everyone down.
I understand the irony of this coming from a Liberal but, you should get off the fence and pick a lane for franchising and National rail. I would advise nationalise National rail more and give franchises more incentive to spend.
Written by Liberal Writer, Max Anderson
Point of Information
Hop Off The Fence And Support Nationalisation – a Labour response
Mr Anderson highlights the problem we face today, our transport system is utterly fragmented as a result of half-hearted franchising. The train network as a whole, is inconsistent and therefore ineffective; a centralised system would result in much smoother journeys, and cut out the politics of competing companies.
I fully accept Mr Anderson’s claim that Network Rail is poorly funded, that is why the Labour party would support much greater funding for the whole of the UK, in order to ensure that signals, railway tracks, and stations are better kept.
However, fully embracing franchising would only worsen the problems we currently face, these companies are only concerned with profit, rather than the experience of passengers. A fully nationalised system would ensure consistency for all UK commuters, rather than just those in the London bubble. We need to ensure our transport system is well connected, communicative, and consistent, because transport is a ‘commodity’, in the words of Mr Anderson.
Written by Labour Writer, Isabella Jewell
Being a Pessimist clearly runs throughout all Liberal Democrats – a Conservative response
When reading articles such as Mr. Anderson’s, this week it is easy to see a correlation between it and the recent Liberal Democrat’s performance in the 2019 General Election. There is a lack of a grasp from both parties in being able to deliver what the British people really want. The most recent election proved that the electorate does not want the nationalisation proposed by Mr. Anderson. Neither do they want an unorganised Liberal Democrat party. It is only the Conservative government that can deal with Britain’s infrastructure and transportation.
Firstly, to claim that our entire transportation infrastructure is a mess is inappropriate. If there was a true crisis which he so claims, surely his party and the Labour party would have achieved far better results in the general election. The call for nationalisation is now a farce and the opposition must learn to deal with this.
Mr. Anderson also makes the point that HS2 is a ridiculous plan. Yes, I freely admit that there have been problems with HS2 but surely you would want your government to be investing in ambitious infrastructure programs so that the United Kingdom can improve economically.
Written by Conservative Writer, Jack Kane
Nationalisation and Fairer Funding: The Recipe for better British railway and transport system – Labour Article
Following the election results, anyone interested in making British Society more fair is feeling crushed. The country seems to have rejected a Labour Manifesto which stood for justice, anti-Austerity measures, and greater equality. Whilst we have suffered a devastating defeat, let’s not give up hope or become apathetic; this result is a call to arms for the liberal minded, those who want to improve society for everyone, not just themselves and the 1 percent at the top. We shall soldier on, and refuse to turn a blind eye in the face of social injustice, after all, that is the role of the Opposition.
This week at Point of Information, we are examining the British railway and transport system, considering how it is that it has fallen into disrepair, with dramatic price hikes, and an increase in delays and cancellations. Labour believes that the answer lies in re-nationalisation, as over 20 years of privately owned trains have run our transport into the ground.
Under the current British railway and transport system, we see private train companies exploiting passengers for profit, with prices rising and overcrowding becoming increasingly common. In fact the situation has become so extreme that it was discovered that on three occasions in the South Western Railway train from Woking to Waterloo in 2018 was carrying more than 500 passengers over its 720 capacity, according to the Department for Transport; a tragedy waiting to happen.
No stranger to a long distance train myself, I have found on numerous occasions that trains are so oversold the carriage resembles an airless tin of sardines, with passengers forced to stand for hours. Private companies do not take passenger satisfaction into account, as they know their transportation is a necessity for many rather than a choice.
It is this careless, profit-driven nature that has led to the strikes of Southern Rail in recent months – workers are protesting the fact that many drivers are left as the sole member of staff on many services, something they believe to be deeply unsafe. The general secretary of the RMT union, Mick Cash, described the situation perfectly: “The company, with an eye on ever-fatter profits, is prepared to axe the guards on some of the most overcrowded and potentially dangerous services in Britain so that they can squeeze every last penny out of their passengers regardless of the consequences.”
But these private companies are squeezing more than a few pennies out of their customers, British commuters are paying some of the highest fares in Europe, and prices are on the rise. An eye-watering example from 2018; those living in Birmingham and travelling to London for work with a Virgin Trains season ticket now pay a staggering £10,567, an increase of £2,539 since 2010. Unfortunately, commuters will once again face a New Year price hike of 2.8 percent in 2020. Such prices are pushing many people out of train travel, especially those who can’t afford to live in city centres or in close neighbourhoods.
Nationalisation would lead to a change in philosophy for the British railway and transport system?, looking to subsidise the cost for passengers, to render trains more accessible.
Ticket fares, however, are not the only problem in the UK transport network, in its current state, the system is utterly London-centric, with the rest of the country receiving very little funding an infrastructure. The figures speak for themselves, think tank IPPR North claims £1,943 is being spent per person in London on current or planned transport projects, compared with just £427 in northern England.
London receives over four times the amount of funding that is granted to the North. Thursday’s election highlights the importance of not neglecting Northern and working class constituencies, the next step for the Government is to assure that the North and the Midlands are considered on the same level as London; this is the only way to create jobs and ensure equality.
I shall leave you with the poignant comment of Steve Rotheram, mayor of the Liverpool City Region: it is the “investment deficit that is seriously undermining growth potential in the North, you simply cannot deliver a Northern Powerhouse as long as the regions that delivered the Industrial Revolution are reliant on transport infrastructure that is operating on a 19th-century timetable.”
Modernisation, Nationalisation, and a levelling of funding are all necessary to create a more just society and transport network. Surely the impending climate crisis is enough of an incentive to improve the British railway and transport system?
Written by Labour writer, Isabella Jewell
Point of Information
Only the Conservatives can create the Northern Powerhouse, it’s why Labour voters left – a Conservative response
The British people have in their droves voted to save us from a Labour party and the frightening leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. There manifest stood for nothing more than tax the rich, making Britain scary for entrepreneurs and business, as well as burdening the British tax-payer with the unnecessary process of re-nationalisation. Nationalisation is unelectable Miss Jewell and thankfully so.
Miss Jewell argues that transport in London has four times as much spent on it than anywhere else in the UK. This is incorrect and secondly, is it a surprise that one of the business capitals of the world with over 8 million people needs lots of money spent on it? Transport is critical in a city like London so you must take that into context.
If Miss Jewell reads the Conservative manifesto, she would see how our party is reducing the divide by pledging a substantial amount of money into northern powerhouse projects. This is what made us electable and it will, in the end, help our already great transport infrastructure.
Written by Conservative Writer, Jack Kane
A poor analysis of the British railway and transport system despite a sound solution – a Liberal response
As I have written in my article, I am rather supportive of nationalising the British railway and transport system, although this is balanced by me being just as equally as enthusiastic of privatising is more as well. However, I am afraid I do not agree with a lot of what Miss Jewell has written despite the fact we may agree with the same solution.
Train companies are losing money at an alarming rate. I talk about how FirstGroup (GWR) lost over £327 million last year, one of the most prominent railways.
However, the exception is Virgin. They have tried to invest more so than their other franchises, but in return have increased the prices massively, and are about to be punished by the Department of Transport. They will not be able to extend their contract of franchising and don’t particularly want to either as they are still making less money than they hoped. It is a joke that it costs up to £250 to travel from London to Birmingham, but Virgin are not the problem here.
Miss Jewell’s also raised the issue of strikes, I think this is a relevant point. It is unsafe, but again, I would ask, although I am unable to provide the answer to my own question, is this due to the loses that train companies are making? I notice Virgin do not seem to be struggling with strikes the same as others because they are charging so much more than others. I’m not defending Virgin here, they should be punished for what they are doing, but they are not the problem with the train services at the moment. In fact they are an anomaly.
Written by Liberal Writer, Max Anderson
The British electorate has spoken. So forget nationalisation – Conservative Article
Though the issue being discussed this week is over the future of the British railway and transport system, I must first make a note about the 2019 General election. If you voted, thank you for obligating to use your democratic right and we must never take this for granted. Secondly, if you voted for the Conservative party like myself, then I congratulate you especially if this is your first time. The Conservatives were the only party in this election promising, in my view a strong and coherent plan for the UK and thank you for placing your faith in the Conservative party. Now with the Conservative party in power with a majority, it is time now to see the excellent policies that we voted for taking flight. I can’t wait to see it.
With the nation whole-heartedly rejecting Jeremy Corbyn’s ridiculous plans to re-nationalize the railways and deal with our roads at a substantial cost to the British taxpayer. There was only one way to continue to fix our transport system and now we are going to see a Conservative majority achieve this with a mandate directly from the British electorate.
By taking tough measures with austerity, we are now able to spend effectively. For the railways, this new Conservative government has promised to spend £4.2 billion on local train, bus and tram services with the money being available from 2022. Transport links in London have received more than their fair share of funding and now it is time to repay the trust given to the Conservative government by former Labour cities. The Northern Powerhouse is at the centre of a Conservative government’s economy and these initiatives will be funded by the UK government not cutting corporation tax. The Northern powerhouse will reach its potential under Conservative rule.
For this Conservative government, the main transportation problems it will face is HS2 and the third runway at Heathrow. Though the previous Parliament has voted in principle for the runway, the new UK government will make sure that it remains a private sector project. The Conservative manifesto makes out that Heathrow must prove to the UK government that they can “can meet its air quality and noise obligations, that the project can be financed and built and that the business case is realistic.” This is the sensible thing to do other an extremely volatile issue.
Finally, while Labour wanted to spend excessive amounts on re-nationalizing the railways, they would have neglected those who commute via car. It is only the Conservative who can allow strong investment to maintain our roads. The Conservatives have pledged “£28.8 billion investment in strategic and local roads.” As well as investing “£1 billion in completing a fast-charging network.” While strengthening infrastructure the Conservatives are paving the way for the electric car revolution as we phase out petrol and diesel cars.
With these pledges, it is no wonder why the British public decided to back the Conservative party. Their plan was concrete and simple building upon Britain’s already strong infrastructure. Labour’s plan was over the top and thankfully brought back to reality after the General Election result.
Written by Conservative Writer, Jack Kane
Point of Information
The Public Voted for Brexit, Not Against Nationalisation – a Labour response
I would like to reiterate Mr Kane’s gratitude for those who voted, it is essential we remain engaged, even when politics becomes more gloomy. I do take issue, however, with Mr Kane’s argument that people voted against the Labour Party’s support of Nationalisation; it is clear that this election was all about Brexit and personality – many people just didn’t like Jeremy Corbyn.
In a 2014 YouGov poll, 60 percent of Brits expressed support for a nationalised train service, and this was before more recent price hikes. The fact is, privatisation has failed many people, many of whom live outside of London and feel left behind. I am sceptical that the Conservatives will change their tune and start taking care of the North, but perhaps Johnson has now realised that the North is where his majority lies as of this week. We can only hope that positives will come out of the result, and that the Conservatives will take note of those in neglected constituencies.
Mr Kane argues that Labour has neglected road users, which I find an interesting argument. We should be encouraging and improving public transport so we can reduce our carbon emissions, as such, ticket tariffs need to be subsidised to fix the British railway and transport system.
Overall, guarding the status quo will only render British railway and transport system more ineffective and more expensive.
Written by Labour Writer, Isabella Jewell
Its article’s like these that make me fear for the future of Britain – a Liberal response
When i sat down to read Mr Kane’s article, i hoped he would not spend the whole time talking about the election and not provide any real solutions on how to fix the British railway and transport system? However, when i began to read, i realised that is exactly what this article is and it is just a repeat of last weeks article.
I could comment on: the why it is unfounded to say all nationalisation is bad, such as the trains when that is not true; the way in which he seems to think austerity is over and that we can spend when we are still 85% in debt and in a deficit; the fact that HS2 is pointless waste of money that has been in the pipeline for years and has gotten no where; or the fact he seems to offer no solution to any problem other than throwing money at it… and I thought this was the Conservative article?
There is so much I wish I could talk about because, despite me agreeing with a few articles of Mr Kane as late, I sadly cannot agree with his most recent. I think that there is a lack of evidence throughout Mr Kane’s article. I believe the article isn’t true, more like a lap of celebration from the recent election.
Written by Labour Writer, Max Anderson
I am currently in my second year of reading Politics at the University of Exeter. My first interaction with politics was at the tender age of four years old.
I have just finished my second year at The University of Manchester studying French and Italian and am about to leave the Northern Powerhouse for a year abroad.
Hello, my name is Jack Kane and I am third year undergraduate at the University of Exeter. I am a studying Politics and will graduate Exeter in the summer of 2020. I have been interested and engaged in Politics since a very young age.