UNTyne&Wear brings us the following, originally in the Hartlepool Mail:
Easington MP Grahame Morris has called on Parliament to launch an inquiry into foreign state-owned companies owning UK rail firms.
Mr Morris said British commuters, who suffer the highest rail prices in Europe, are subsidising foreign passengers.
MPs from Parliament’s rail group have called for an urgent inquiry.
It follows a decision to award the Scotrail franchise to Dutch state-owned firm Abellio, and also research showed 20 of the UK’s 27 private rail services are owned by foreign state-owned or backed railways.
Mr Morris said British commuters have experienced substandard services for decades adding:
“Often the very same operators that are using British commuters as cash cows are foreign state-owned companies that then hold down fares and improve services back in their own countries.
“That British commuters are expected to both suffer the failure of rail privatisation as well as subsidise commuters in Holland, Germany and France adds insult to injury.”
De-railed: After years of reliance on taxpayers’ money, it seems the ride may soon by over for some of the UK’s rail privateers [Image: PA].
The Labour Party seems to have a real problem with offering the public what the public has demanded.
Faced with demand for the railways to be renationalised, they seem set to announce a plan in which private firms compete with a public service for franchises.
The promise of privatisation had been that the new franchise-holders would keep prices down, and any investment should be made by the companies concerned.
In fact, fares and taxpayer investment have rocketed since the railways were privatised by the last full Conservative government in the early 1990s.
It seems that Labour’s plan, which may be announced next week (the party is being very cagey about it), will mean franchises are awarded based on “a pragmatic choice between the state and private sector based on price, reliability and quality of service” (according to a report in The Guardian).
This, we are told, “will provide a solution that allays commuter frustration, provides a fair deal for the taxpayer and does not amount to a return to British Rail”.
Such a decision will not only anger rail unions, Labour MPs who have been calling for renationalisation, and 70 per cent of the British public, but also the rail industry’s private operators, who say current bids for franchises must not be upset by allowing the state to join the process belatedly.
It has also been claimed that an extra risk would be imported onto the public sector balance sheet if a state-owned company won a franchise.
But this is narrow-minded thinking; the state currently spends much more on the railways than it did before they were privatised – we already have a large risk on the public balance sheet.
If these private firms had done their jobs properly, then the taxpayer would not be shouldering so many of their costs and – perhaps – the Labour Party would not be considering even the partial renationalisation that is on the table at the moment.
None of the UK’s current rail operators have kept their promises and after 20 years, it is far too late for them to bleat about the situation they have created.
It should also be noted that the public sector has been running the East Coast Main Line extremely successfully since the franchise run by National Express failed, making expansion of this management model highly attractive to Labour strategists who need to find ways of trimming the burden on the public purse.
As a group of prospective Labour MPs in marginal constituencies wrote in a letter to The Observer, it would mean “hundreds of millions currently lost in private profit would be available to fully fund a bold offer on rail fares”.
If so, it seems that this halfway-house plan may provide exactly what we need, even if it isn’t what anybody wants.
Work camp: But is this a Nazi camp of the 1930s/40s, or a prediction of a British residential workfare scheme for the disabled in the 2010s?
Residential Workfare for the disabled. If that sentence hasn’t already set off at least three separate alarms in your head, then you haven’t been paying attention. What follows is a warning: Stay alert. Ask questions. Do not allow what this article predicts.
Workfare, for all those who still need enlightening after three years of this particular Tory-led nightmare, is a government-sponsored way of keeping unemployment high while pretending to be doing something about it. The idea is to send unemployed people to work for a period of several weeks – often for a large employer that is perfectly capable of taking on staff at a reasonable wage – and remove them from the unemployment figures for that time, even though they continue to be paid only in benefits. When the time period is served, the jobseeker returns to the dole queue and another is taken on, under the same terms. The employer pays nothing but reaps profit from the work that is carried out. The jobseeker gains nothing at all.
The disabled are, of course, the most persecuted sector of modern British society – far more vilified than hardened criminals or terrorists. Since the Coalition came into office by the back door in 2010, it has been government policy to close down employers taking on disabled people (Remploy factories), to spread propaganda against them, claiming they are scroungers or skivers, and the vast majority of disability benefit claims are fraudulent (this is true of only 0.4 per cent of such claims – a tiny minority). The bedroom tax, enforced nationally in April, has proven itself to be a means of driving disabled people out of homes that have been specially adapted to accommodate their needs. The Work Programme, which was extended to disabled people last December, has proven totally unsuited to the task of getting them into work, yet the Work Capability Assessment for Employment and Support Allowance continues to sign 70 per cent of claimants off the benefit as ‘fit for work’ (whether they are or not), and a further 17 or 18 per cent into a ‘work-related activity’ group where they must try to make themselves employable within 365 days.
The word ‘residential’ – applied to any sector of society at all, never mind whether they’re disabled or not – rightly sends shivers through the hearts of anyone in this country of good conscience. The terrible regime at the Winterbourne View home in Bristol is still recent, and nobody wants to see those crimes repeated – on anyone.
However, put these three words together and that seems the most likely consequence.
So why bother?
Here’s some pure speculation for you: The government knew that the bedroom tax was going to put the squeeze on the disabled, and it knew that disabled people would complain (although there was no way of knowing whether it would win a court case on the issue, as happened this week). It had already devised a solution and called it residential training for the disabled.
The residential aspect means that participants currently get to stay in their own rooms, in relative comfort – but this could change, and very soon.
You see, this scheme is intended as a pilot study, and the plan has always been to expand this form of training, opening it up to the market, for private-sector parasites to run for profit after competing with each other to put in the lowest bid for the franchise.
Bye bye, individual rooms. Bye bye, dignity. Hello, communal dormitories. Hello… well, eventually it’ll just be hell.
And you can be sure mandation will follow, meaning anyone refusing to attend will lose benefit.
Gradually, disabled people will disappear from our communities, ending up in these residential ‘Workfarehouses’.
How long will it take before we start hearing stories about abuses taking place against people living in these places?
How long did it take before the stories came out of Winterbourne View?
Come to that, how long did it take before the world found out about places like Auschwitz or Dachau or Belsen?
I know what you’re thinking:
“It couldn’t happen here.”
(The first Vox Political book, Strong Words and Hard Times, is available now in paperback or as an eBook, including a large ‘footnotes’ section in which you can actually connect to internet links containing supporting evidence – if you’re reading on a device that supports this kind of activity.)
Virgin trains will continue to run on the West Coat Main Line until the government sorts out the £40 million mess it has made of the franchise bidding process.
This morning we heard that the controversial decision to award the contract to run the West Coast Main Line to FirstGroup has gone south – by which I mean the franchise award was scrapped by the government after it found “significant technical flaws”.
Three civil servants have been suspended – typical of David Cameron’s government to sack the help.
Bids were made by four companies – Virgin, FirstGroup, Dutch train operator Nederlandse Spoorwegen, and a joint bid from French companies Keolis and SNCF. The flaws were found in the way the level of risk in the bids was evaluated.
This appears to be a problem across the Coalition government’s departments. Does anyone remember Andrew Lansley’s refusal to release to risk assessment on his changes to the NHS, which predicted severe problems with the delivery of healthcare?
The August announcement that FirstGroup would take over services on the West Coast Main Line, starting in December, sparked a legal challenge from current operator Virgin, which has run the franchise since 1997. The Department of Transport said it will no longer be contesting the judicial review launched by Virgin in the High Court, and Virgin will continue to operate the line while the issue is resolved.
I’m not fantastically enthusiastic about this because it seems like a squabble between rich boys over their toys. Let’s bear in mind that Virgin is having great fun peeling bloody strips from England’s NHS and claiming them for itself.
Most damning of all is the fact that the four companies must be reimbursed for the cost of their bids, taking £40 million from the public purse at a time of fiscal austerity. The government has wasted our money. Will the welfare budget take yet another hit to help George Osborne balance the books?
There is a bright side. The flawed franchise was awarded when Justine Greening was Transport Secretary. She was replaced last month by Patrick McLaughlin. I made fun of him at the time because he has a fear of flying, but at least he has the decency to admit when a mistake has been made.
What a shame his leaders can’t admit the same about their entire administration.
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