13/03/2010 - Rail privatisation on the cards?

TOWARDS the middle of last month we described how cutbacks, safety issues and chaos were the order of the day in Britain’s transport industry.  Much of our article was produced on the basis of information supplied to us by ‘D’. 

Solidarity Trade Union has now received further information from ‘D’ and it doesn’t make for great reading. 

Here’s what ‘D’ told us:

“It appears that the Con-Dem government has adopted a dual approach to the public transport system – but it all revolves around money.  Firstly, where it appears that money can be made, cut-backs are made so that profitability is maximized in the event of re-privatisation.  Secondly, where it looks like money can’t be made they seem to be intent on running everything into the ground.

Last month I gave the example of East Coast, the Government owned train operator.  There’s money to be made here.  Therefore, catering services and jobs on inter-city routes between England and Scotland are under threat.  It’s thought that May will see re-privatisation here.”

Prior to this, we also looked at the state of Britain’s bus services (see our article Trouble brews amongst Transport staff of 06/02/2011).  Although they play a vital role, it appears that there’s not the same amount of money to be made here.  Thus cuts are the order of the day.  This will inevitably lead to redundancies, significantly reduced services, higher prices and loss of concessionary fares.

The relentless pursuit of profit may also be the driving force behind infrastructure privatization.  At the moment, all rail infrastructure is publicly-owned, but that may not last forever. 

One company who may be interested in such a move is Balfour Beatty Rail – who are in business “to help you plan, build and maintain your railway infrastructure: a total service for the whole life of the asset.”

According to one leading construction web-site – – a recent analysis by “the Office of Rail Regulation(ORR) into the efficiency of Network Rail was carried out by Railconsult, a subsidiary of Balfour Beatty Rail, which could stand to gain from a sale of Network Rail, and so is not independent.” 

Another way of increasing profits is to have a system whereby anyone with the nerve to complain about, say, working excessive hours for a pittance, can be immediately dismissed.  This really would be capitalist heaven!

Yet such a scenario is not so far-fetched.  As ‘D’ noted:

“Early last month, Solidarity looked at the proposed new Employers Charter.  This is yet another Con-Dem attack on the rights of ordinary working folks. 

It’s a dangerous piece of legislation.  If implemented it would ‘raise the bar’ for protection against unfair dismissal from one years service to two.  It’ll mean that workers can be dismissed unfairly with no come-back!  They are also proposing to force those who will still be able to claim to lodge a deposit of cash into Court to be forfeited in the event they lose their case!  In reality this will mean
that many workers will not be able to afford such a deposit and will have to give up seeking their rights.”

For capitalists, this really would be the icing on the cake!  At the moment, they’re only allowed to ask an employee to take their annual leave when it suits the boss, ask an employee to take a pay cut and reject an employee's request to work flexibly. 

Is it any wonder that rail workers are opposed to The Employer's Charter as issued by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills via their Business Link agency?

The plan by Network Rail to break up the company into nine areas has also sounded alarm bells for rail workers.

According to Network Rail “the routes will run as a business unit, and each route managing director will, in effect, be running their own infrastructure railway business with a substantial annual turnover.

This business-speak is all fine and dandy, but the proposed break up raises serious questions over staffing levels, terms and conditions of employment and collective bargaining.

In addition, many feel that this may represent another step towards privatisation.

The Association of Train Operating Companies (ATCO) certainly seem to be promoting this idea.   Michael Roberts, Chief Executive of ATOC has said:

“Network Rail’s recently-announced setting up of regional business units is a positive first move, but must go further if we are to generate significant savings whilst continuing to improve services for passengers.”

ATCO are proposing three “key elements of reform that would bring significant cost savings.”  These include the “creation of around ten independent infrastructure companies” which would be “attractive to potential investors,” a “lean central body for essential network-wide function” and the “introduction of new franchising and regulatory arrangements that incentivise train companies to work with the new regional infrastructure businesses to form alliances or enter into commercial agreements.”

In layman’s terms we feel that ATCO is proposing privitisation, job cuts and massive profits for share-holders.  None of this bodes well for Britain’s public transport system.