Posts Tagged ‘Stagecoach’

‘I’ Reports Labour Intends to Renationalise Local Bus Services

November 20, 2019

There was an article by Hugo Gye in yesterday’s edition of the I for 19th November 2019, reporting that the Labour party is planning to renationalise the local bus services, which were privatised in the 1980s by Maggie Thatcher. The article runs

Labour will open the door to the nationalisation of England’s buses if it gets into power in next month’s election, Jeremy Corbyn has said.

The party would give all councils the right to take control of their local bus services and give free bus travel to anyone aged under 25.

The move, which will form part of the Labour manifesto when it is published this week, is the latest in a string of nationalisations announced by Mr Corbyn. But bus industry officials insisted it would do little to improve services.

Speaking at the CBI conference in London yesterday, the Labour leader said he would encourage individual councils to take direct control of bus networks when franschise contracts expired. He added: “We need to integrate bus and rail services, we need to re-empower local authorities to develop bus services if they wish.”

The plan – which would apply only to England because transport policy is devolved – would give councils that right to remove franchises from private companies such as Stagecoach, Go-Ahead and FirstGroup. The nation’s bus network was privatised and deregulated by Margaret Thatcher in the 80s, although in London it is still heavily regulated by the city’s mayor.

Katy Taylor, commercial and customer director at Go-Ahead, said: “The biggest issues we face are congestion and council cuts, and regulation would do little to solve either of these. While bus usage continues to fluctuate in some parts of the country, our experience in cities like Brighton – where ridership is higher than anywhere else outside of London – shows that public and private sector working together is the best way to deliver a transport service.”

Labour’s bus policies are similar to its rail nationalisation scheme, in which each train franchise would be brought into public ownership as soon as its current contract expired.

The party has pledged to nationalise a number of public services if it wins on 12 December. This would including buying the country’s water system and the National Grid.

This is great news, as the bus service we currently have in my bit of Bristol is appalling. The bus company has cut services and I’ve heard that they regard it as a country route, even though it is actually within the city limits. People have complained to the council and the bus company, FirstBus, but all they got were letters from each blaming the other.

I was at school when Thatcher privatised the buses, and can remember the immediate effect. The new, deregulated bus company immediately reorganised the bus routes to send its buses down one of the major roads into town. The result wasn’t greater efficiency, but less. The buses were caught in the traffic jams that built up, so that buses that should have got all the schoolkids from my bit of south Bristol into school in town well before the 9 O’clock bell got in much later.

And FirstBus’ reputation in Bristol generally is so low, that the company has acquired the nickname ‘WorstBus’.

The much vaunted competition that Tories claim will always improve services hasn’t worked either. There has been an alternative bus company set up, and for a while that ran some good services to our part of Bristol. But these also seem to have disappeared or been cut back.

There are some excellent bus services run by charities, but people should not have to rely on volunteer organisations for a good, efficient bus service. Clearly the buses in Bristol need the support of local authorities, because privatise enterprise alone simply isn’t up to the job. It seems that the bus companies are too interested in creating a profit for their shareholders than providing a service for their customers. Indeed, the greed and profiteering by the directors of the newly privatised companies, like Ann Gloag, and the shabby way they treated their workers, customers and people they’d hit in accidents, was so bad that every fortnight Private Eye seemed to be running a story about them.

The local bus company in Bristol wasn’t brilliant by any means when it was under council ownership, but it was better than what followed with privatisation. Thatcher’s policy of privatisation and deregulation of public services has been a miserable failure right across the board. It’s ‘zombie economics’, and the only reason it hasn’t been put in the grave long ago is that the rich 1% – including the media barons boosting the policy – massively profit from it. While the rest of us have to put up with substandard services.

It’s time to vote the Tories out, and bring in someone who will improve public services in this country. And that person is Jeremy Corbyn.

 

Privatised Railways and the Failure of Popular Capitalism

March 23, 2015

One of the Ed Miliband’s election promises has been to renationalise parts of the rail network. As recent polls found, most of the population of this country would like to see the utilities returned to public ownership, including the railways. They’ve been marred with poor service and overcharging since they were first privatised by John Major back in the early 1990s. To make matters worse, the railways are receiving far more in government subsidies than they were when they were nationalised. The British public are paying through the nose for a worse service.

Anthony Sampson discusses the massive failure of the privatised railways in his book, Who Runs This Place: The Anatomy of Britain in the 21st Century. The book examines and describes how Britain has become less democratic, with politicians, government officials and industrialists more remote and unaccountable. He devotes nearly two pages to the privatisation of the railways, pp. 289-90, in which he states

The most disastrous of the privatisations was the last, British Rail, which was also the most visible to the public. Margaret Thatcher had shrewdly resisted selling it off, but John Major weakly gave in to pressure from bankers, and went ahead in 1996. The selling off of the vast railway network was devised by the Treasury to maximise the short-term gains, and was masterminded by Sir Steven Robson. The stations and the 23,000 miles of track would be run by a national company, Railtrack, while separate operating companies would buy and run the trains in different regions. The old railway managers were soon demoted: the chairman of Railtrack was Sir Robert Horton, who had just ben fired as chief executive of the oil company BP; and he chose as chief executive a finance director, Gerald Corbett, who had risen through Dixons shops, Redland cement, and Grand Metropolitan drinks. the track maintenance was delegated to private contractors.

By 2001 the whole railway system was in serious danger. Corbett was out of his field and Horton was in ill-health; he was succeeded by Sir Philip Beck, chairman (like his father) of the Mowlem construction company, whose experience came from the controversial Docklands Light Railway. The lack of effective accountability became tragically clear after a succession of train crashes, which revealed scandalous lack of supervision. The crash at Potters Bar was blamed on careless maintenance by the subcontractors Jarvis, whose chief operating officer blamed sabotage, of which no evidence emerged; he was then promoted to chief executive. The trail of accountability ended up in the sidings of a secretive private company.

The government at last intervened, withdrew support from Railtrack, thereby bankrupting it, and created a new non-profit company, Network Rail, chaired by Ian McAllister, the former chairman of Ford in Britain, with an engineer John Armitt as chief executive. The environment secretary Stephen Byers, who had responsibility for transport, resigned, and was succeeded by the Scot Alistair Darling, and Darling extended the government’s role in July 2004 when he abolished the independent Strategic Rail Authority – which had been created only four years earlier – and took over most of its functions.

The operating companies, which had been only granted short franchises, were more interested in quick profits than long-term planning, and most boards had little experience of railways. South West Trains was acquired by the bus company Stagecoach, built up by the combative Scots entrepreneur Brian Souter and his sister Ann Gloag, which the Monopolies Commission had earlier accused of behaviour that was ‘predatory, deplorable and against the public interest’. They made a new fortune by selling rolling-stock, and bought the magnificent Beaufort Castle in Scotland; but they soon made rash investments in America which brought down their shares and limited their investment in British trains. West Coast Trains was bought by Virgin, run by Sir Richard Branson whose background was in airlines and pop music. South Eastern and South Central trains were run by Vivendi, the French conglomerate which soon hopelessly overextended its empire, from water to Hollywood. The Great North-Eastern (GNER) was owned by the Bermuda-based company Sea Containers, controlled by its American founder-president Jim Sherwood.

The privatising of the network had undermined much of the traditional British pride in railways. The separate regional traditions and hierarchies of engine-drivers, signalmen and stationmasters were swept aside by the cuts and constraints imposed by accountants and financial directors at headquarters. Many of the cutbacks were necessary if the companies were to be made viable; but the upheavals in the operating companies and the collapse of Railtrack had left few people who understood how railways really worked.

The privatisation of the railways failed because the franchises were short-term, and the firms that bought them thus only interested in making a quick buck. They had no knowledge or experience of running railways, and refused to accept responsibility for the disasters and horrendous crashes that occurred. Margaret Thatcher herself recognised that privatising them would be a bad idea, but it clearly wasn’t bad enough to dissuade Britain’s bankers.

As a result, Blair’s government had to extend government power over the privatised railways, even though New Labour was enthusiastically pro-privatisation. Ed Miliband’s planned re-nationalisation of parts of the rail network will thus undoubtedly be an improvement.