The Great Train Robbery

Rail privatisation has failed to deliver for rail users and taxpayers; has brought in little private sector investment and private train companies are heavily dependent upon the public purse to enable them to run services, according to a new TUC- commissioned report, The Great Train Robbery – written by the Centre for Research on Social-Cultural Change (CRESC) at the University of Manchester.

And when train companies do make a profit, barely any of it is re-invested in the railways, says the study. It reveals that those firms receiving the largest state subsidies spend, on average, over 90 per cent of their profits on shareholder dividends.

This contrasts sharply with the East Coast Mainline, which is currently state run and which re-invests all of its profits into improving the service.

great train robbery network rail private investment

The Great Train Robbery looks at many of the key objectives behind the decision of John Major’s government to privatise the railways in 1994. The report questions whether any of these have been achieved:

  • Cost effectiveness – train operating companies are entirely reliant upon public subsidies to run services. The top five recipients alone received almost £3bn in taxpayer support between 2007 and 2011. This allowed them to make operating profits of £504m – over 90 per cent (£466m) of which was paid to shareholders.
  • Extra investment – the report shows how the average age of trains has risen since rail privatisation, from 16 years in 1996 to 18 years old today. Just £1.9bn was spent on rolling stock between 2008 and 2012, compared to £3.2bn between 1989 and 1993 (the four years before privatisation.)
  • Over 90 per cent of new investment in recent years has been financed by Network Rail (the taxpayer funded body responsible for rail infrastructure), and comes mainly from taxpayer funding or government-underwritten borrowing, says the report.
  • Significant upgrades to infrastructure, such as the development of the West Coast Mainline, have been paid for by Network Rail.
  • Passenger comfort – the report says while there has been a 60 per cent increase in passengers since 1994/95, there has only been a 3 per cent increase in new carriages, resulting in serious overcrowding on many routes.
  • Innovation – even where there has been private sector investment in new technology, such as Virgin’s tilting trains, it has been underwritten by the state through subsidies to train operating companies and guarantees to rolling stock leasing companies.
  • Added value – The Great Train Robbery shows how train operating companies paid Network Rail just £1.59bn in track access charges in 2012, compared to £3.18bn paid to its predecessor Railtrack in 1994. This represents an ‘indirect subsidy’ from taxpayers as train companies are getting track access on the cheap. It also means that the full extent of taxpayer subsidy is far greater than is often reported.
  • Investment in infrastructure has largely been funded through borrowing by Network Rail which now has debts of over £30bn, and is spending more on repaying this debt than on railway maintenance, says the report.
  • Competitive fares – the UK has the most expensive rail fares in Europe. Long distance, day return and season tickets are all around twice the price of similar tickets in France, Germany, Italy and Spain, which have publicly-run rail systems. Average train fares in the UK increased at three times the rate of average wages between 2008 and 2012.
  • More passengers – the report dismisses claims that privatisation has helped increase the number of people travelling on the railways.It says that passenger growth has mostly been down to rising GDP and changes in employment patterns rather than because of privatisation.

Great train robbery net profits dividends

Commenting on the report, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: ‘This study explodes the myth that rail firms are bringing added value to our railways. In reality they rely upon taxpayers to turn a profit, virtually all of which ends up in shareholders’ pockets, rather than being used to improve services.

‘Rail privatisation has not brought the improvements its cheerleaders promised – the average age of trains has increased and most new investment is funded by the state.

‘The claim that private train operators are responsible for more people using the railways must also be taken with a huge pinch of salt. Passenger growth has mirrored changes in the wider economy and is not the result of creative marketing drives by companies.

‘The government must accept that the current model is broken. Its determination to impose franchising across the network – even on the East Coast Mainline which is performing well as a nationalised service – shows ministers are ignoring the evidence of 20 years of failure.’

CRESC Director Professor Karel Williams said: ‘The privately owned train operating companies have hijacked the government’s rail reform agenda which is all about ‘getting franchising back on track’.

‘Our research shows how the franchising system allows them to distribute profits at low cost from public subsidy.

‘It would make sense to abolish the train operating companies and it would cost the taxpayer nothing if it were done as the franchises expired.

”Train and track operation could then be integrated under a new publicly-owned National Rail, operating within defined budgets over sustained funding periods.’

The Great Train Robbery says that:

  • Train operating companies should be abolished as a crucial first step. This could be achieved within the next ten years as companies have relatively short leases with contract termination points and there is no requirement for shareholder compensation when the franchises expire.
  • Train and rail infrastructure should be organised by a new not for profit company, National Rail, built around the core of Network Rail.
  • Just as with Crossrail in London, the government should introduce a business levy to raise extra funds for the railways. The report estimates this could generate £21bn a year.


The People’s Assembly: Draft statement and proposed action plan

The declaration below represents the beginning of a democratic process leading towards a second People’s Assembly in early 2014. This declaration represents the views of all those who initially called for the People’s Assembly. We hope it will be endorsed by the People’s Assembly on 22nd June. It will then be open to the local People’s Assembly’s, union bodies and campaign groups who support the People’s Assembly to suggest amendments, additions, or deletions. These will then all be discussed and decided upon at the recall People’s Assembly in 2014.

The plans for action are simply the most obvious rallying points for a national anti-cuts movement for the remainder of 2013. They are not intended to supersede local or sectional action by existing campaigns or trade unions. They are intended to be focus national, collective action by the whole anti-austerity movement.

The People’s Assembly, meeting in Westminster Central Hall, declares:

We face a choice that will shape our society for decades to come. It is a choice faced by ordinary people in every part of the globe.

We can defend education, health and welfare provision funded from general taxation and available to all, or we can surrender the gains that have improved the lives of millions of people for over more than 50 years.

We do not accept that government’s austerity programme is necessary. The banks and the major corporations should be taxed at a rate which can provide the necessary resources. Austerity does not work: it is a failure in its own terms resulting in neither deficit reduction nor growth. It is not just: the government takes money from the pockets of those who did not cause the crisis and rewards those who did. It is immoral: our children face a bleaker future if our services and living standards are devastated. It is undemocratic: at the last election a majority voted against the return of a Tory government. The Con-Dem coalition has delivered us into the grip of the Tories’ whose political project is the destruction of a universal welfare state.

We therefore choose to resist. We refuse to be divided against ourselves by stories of those on ‘golden pensions’, or of ‘scroungers’, or the ‘undeserving poor’. We do not blame our neighbours, whatever race or religion they maybe. We are not joining the race to the bottom. We stand with the movement of resistance across Europe.

We are clear in our minds that our stand will require us to defend the people’s right to protest, and so we support the right of unions and campaigns to organise and take such action as their members democratically decide is necessary.

We stand with all those who have made the case against the government so far: in the student movement, in the unions, in the many campaigns to defend services, the NHS, and in the Coalition of Resistance, the People’s Charter, UK Uncut, the environmental movement and the Occupy movement.

We do not seek to replace any organisations fighting cuts. All are necessary. But we do believe that a single united national movement is required to challenge more effectively a nationally led government austerity programme.

We have a plain and simple goal: to make government abandon its austerity programme. If it will not it must be replaced with one that will.

We will concentrate on action not words. We aim to provide the maximum solidarity for unions and other organisations and others taking action. We support every and all effective forms action and aim to build a united national movement of resistance.

Our case is clear. The government’s austerity programme does not work; it is unjust, immoral and undemocratic. Alternatives exist. Debts can be dropped. Privatisation can be reversed and common ownership embraced. A living wage can begin to combat poverty. Strong trade unions can help redistribute profit. The vast wealth held by corporations and the trillions held by the super rich in tax havens can be tapped. Green technology, alternatives to the arms industries, a rebuilt infrastructure including growth in manufacturing are all desperately needed. We are fighting for an alternative future for this generation and for those that come after us.

Proposed actions:

  • The People’s Assembly will support every genuine movement and action taken against any and all of the cuts. We support all current industrial actions by the unions. We encourage and will help to organise the maximum solidarity action with the PCS and teaching union members taking strike action the week after the People’s Assembly, as well as with other action by unions planned for the autumn.
  • Peoples Assemblies against the cuts should be organised in towns and cities across our nations, bringing all those fighting the cuts together into a broad democratic alliance on a local basis.
  • The national and the local Assemblies, in partnership with Trades Unions, Trades Councils, campaigning and community groups, can unite our movement and strengthen our campaigns. Local Assemblies will help us to organise a recalled National Assembly to review our work in the early spring of 2014.
  • We will work together with leading experts and campaigners both here and abroad, and friendly think tanks, to develop rapidly key policies and an alternative programme for a new anti-austerity government. We will continue to welcome support from all who fight the cuts.
  • We will call a national day of civil disobedience and direct action against austerity.
  • We will call a day of co-ordinated local demonstrations in the early autumn.
  • We will work with the trade unions and others to call a national demonstration in November.

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Urgent Appeal from Foodbank in Weymouth

The vicar of Littlemoor Church has issued a urgent appeal due to the Weymouth foodbank running short of supplies. People in Littlemoor, Westham, Portland are those who will be most affected by this shortage. The items that they are running short of are:

  • UHT/powdered milk
  • Breakfast cereal
  • Pasta and rice
  • Pasta sauce
  • Baked beans, tinned spaghetti etc
  • Tinned vegetables
  • Tinned fruit
  • Tinned and packet soup
  • Tinned fish (not meat)
  • Instant mash
  • Tinned or packet rice pudding/custard etc
  • BiscuitsTea/coffee/sugar
  • Toiletries and most importantly toilet roll

If you are able to donate any items or donations these will be gratefully received.

Food can be dropped at the Weymouth and Portland Food Bank at 18 The Esplanade, Weymouth, every Tuesday and Friday morning, from 10.30am to 12.30pm. Call 07531 167465 for more information.

Turning Anger into Activism

Some thoughts from a local activist, Kim Elkin, Bournemouth Uncut, reproduced with kind permission

So I’ve been protesting for the last three days, and people have wanted to know how they can get involved and fight the cuts. So if you’re sat there quietly coming up to the boil, and want to do something, there are many ways you can help.

Some of them are: Write a blog, maybe you have a useful skill such as media? Maybe you understand twitter, many of us activists just can’t get our heads around it! Tweet and Facebook your discontent.

Maybe your good at writing press releases, or taking photo’s or video’s of local demos? Write to your MP. Write to David Cameron or any of his laccys. Paint a banner for a local action or make a sign if your arty.

Make up a protest song if you’re musical. Hand out some leaflets with some very friendly activists.

Talk to your friends. Join your local anti cuts coalition/group or UK Uncut action. Sign a petition. Come to the Peoples’ Assembly. Anything but keep calm and carry on!

No one likes being shafted by a bunch of parasitic toffs. If you’re feeling the rage too then get involved. Much as we need people on the streets, if that’s really not for you then we also have a multitude of ways you can help… and it’s very therapeutic!

TUC warns Net grab would undermine online freedom

The TUC is warning that proposals to place the internet under the control of a UN technical body could restrict political freedoms and harm civil society.

The TUC has joined a global campaign – co-ordinated by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) – against plans to regulate the internet that are being put forward by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and due to be discussed in Dubai next month.

ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow launched Stop the Net Grab at a press conference in London on Monday 12 November 2012, alongside Paul Twomey, the ex-head of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the body which co-ordinates the allocation of internet addresses worldwide. Dr Vint Cerf, who was one of the people behind the invention of the internet in the 1970s, joined them via a video link from California will be.

The ITU is a UN body, set up initially to regulate telegrams, and later telephones and faxes. A coalition of countries including China, Russia and Iran is now seeking to give the ITU and ultimately individual governments, the power to control internet use, regulating not just the network infrastructure, but the internet uses people and organisations are allowed to make.

The TUC believes that these proposals threaten to undermine the benefits that an open internet has delivered for ordinary workers around the world. If the ITU proposals came into force, internet provider companies would be obliged to monitor data and restrict their services to only those uses deemed ‘rational’ by the government of that country.

Subsequent changes to charging models for the internet being lobbied for by a European group of telecoms operators as well as countries eager for a tax on internet usage could see customers paying much more for connectivity, or being forced onto a second-class restricted service, warns the TUC.

These changes could also hit users from developing countries particularly hard, and cut them off from the benefits that global connectivity can bring to their communities.

Commenting on the campaign launch, TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: “An open internet has so far provided a platform for political freedom around the world, and has enabled civil society groups such as unions and charities to compete on a more level playing field with governments and vested corporate interests.

“An ITU regulatory regime would give governments the power to restrict the free use of the internet – something that would be a major blow to workers and human rights activists in countries with repressive regimes. It’s no coincidence the main backers of these proposals include China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Egypt.”

The ITU has publicised its plans for regulation, but the actual details and positions of member countries remain secret ahead of the December meeting. Unlike many other UN conferences, civil society has no access to the process, not even as observers, and virtually no public consultation has taken place. Participation is limited to governments, with observation limited to corporates paying high registration fees.

No attempt has been made by the ITU or most governments to discuss the proposals with unions representing workers in the telecoms, internet or other affected sectors, says the TUC.

Unlike many other UN decisions, member states have no veto, so if the coalition of repressive states behind many of the proposals gets its way, the regulations will change for everyone.

Brendan Barber added: “These decisions will have a huge impact on freedoms and the everyday use of the internet that people take for granted, and most people would be shocked to know that something so major could be happening amongst such secrecy.

“The issues need to debated in the light of day and in detail, not rushed through without consultation by a shady coalition of oppressive regimes and vested corporate interests.”

The TUC will be urging the UK government to oppose the ITU proposals for internet regulation at the Dubai meeting.

UK union members are also being encouraged to join the global online campaign at Stop the Net Grab

Human Rights Tour visits Bournemouth 3rd Oct

The Human Rights Tour 2012 will be visiting Bournemouth on Wednesday October 3rd at Room BG11, Bournemouth House, Lansdowne Campus, Bournemouth University, 19 Christchurch Road, Bournemouth BH1 3LH running from 10am to 4pm.

The event will adopt a workshop format: the sessions will be interactive and facilitated towards giving participants the chance to air their views and debate the issues. Additional input will be provided by BIHR and other speakers.

Human Rights go to the heart of the kind of society we want to be. Learn more, get involved, and find out how human rights knowledge can make a difference to you.

For more details or to book a place, please click on the links below: