Tag Archives: nationalise

Rail fare rises driven by demands of shareholders and foreign corporate owners

A Virgin Trains East Coast train at King’s Cross station in London [Image: David Parry/PA].

A Virgin Trains East Coast train at King’s Cross station in London [Image: David Parry/PA].

Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald has read this right – so of course his comment appears last in the Guardian‘s article, where nobody is likely to see it.

He said passengers are paying higher fares to subsidise the demands of the privatised rail companies’ shareholders, including foreign firms who will put the money into other nations’ rail systems.

This raises the obvious question, in an atmosphere of (false) allegations that foreign citizens have moved to the UK to take services that should go to the people of the UK:

Why are British citizens (actually) being forced to subsidise foreign services and utilities (rail isn’t the only one) through our privatised companies?

The Virgin Trains East Coast rise appears to be motivated by the failure of the Branson-owned firm to increase passenger numbers – possibly because the prices are too high?

As a result, we are told, the firm is struggling to pay premiums it promised to the Treasury in return for the franchise.

So the passengers are being forced to pay more because of privatisation. Weren’t we all promised that prices would fall?

The 2.3% average UK rail fare rises for 2017 are being driven by much higher increases on the reprivatised Virgin Trains East Coast, where ticket prices set by the operator will far outstrip the rate of inflation.

While regulated fares such as season tickets and off-peak returns, which are set by the government, are to increase by 1.9%, fares on Virgin Trains East Coast will increase by 4.9% overall.

The rail firm said that would be hiking the fares it controls by an average of around 5.5%.

The rail firm – a partnership between Richard Branson’s Virgin and the transport group Stagecoach – won the franchise in March 2015, when it was controversially reprivatised by the coalition government after more than five years of operation in the public sector.

Passenger numbers have not risen in line with projections from the time of the bid, leaving the operator struggling to meet the £3.3bn in premiums it has promised to pay the Treasury by 2023, with the bulk of that due in the later years of the eight-year franchise.

Andy McDonald, the shadow transport secretary, said Labour was committed to returning franchises to public ownership to “put an end to Britain’s rip-off railways”. He added: “Passengers are told that higher fares are necessary to fund investment, but vital projects have been delayed by years. Rail fares have risen by 25% on average in the last six years alone, whilst real wages remain below their 2008 levels.

“Money that could be used to keep fares down or reinvested to improve our services is instead subsidising the profits of private companies and other nations’ railway systems – it’s a scandal.”

Source: Rail fare rises driven by hikes on Virgin Trains East Coast | Money | The Guardian

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Guardian seems happy to carry on Corbyn-bashing. Why?

Look how hard-left he is! He's wearing a cap and speaking in the open air! But anti-Corbyn hysterics in the media are the one's who look silly.

Look how hard-left he is! He’s wearing a cap and speaking in the open air! But anti-Corbyn hysterics in the media are the ones who look silly.

Wasn’t The Guardian forced to analyse its own coverage, only a few days ago, amid complaints that it was overly critical of Labour leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn?

The verdict was that some articles had taken an overly-‘anti’ tone – but they’re still coming. Today’s Observer (the Graun‘s Sunday sister) has three in a row.

Yvette Cooper: ‘You can be strong without being extreme’ begins with the tagline, “The Labour leadership candidate says she understands the frustration and anger of Corbyn supporters but warns against losing the wider electorate.”

It continues: “The wholly unexpected obstacle to Cooper’s ambition to be Labour’s first female leader is the hard-left Jeremy ‘Jez We Can’ Corbyn.”

So Jeremy Corbyn is “extreme”, is he? He’s “hard-left”? When was that decided?

Most rational thinkers in the UK now accept that Corbyn is absolutely not “extreme” or “hard-left”. He’s left-wing in the classical Labour mould, in line with most of Labour’s loyal membership. If labels like “extreme”, or “hard” are to be applied anywhere, they would more properly belong with fellow candidates Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and especially Liz Kendall, whose attitudes – in Labour terms – would be described most accurately as “hard-right“.

Here’s another article – no headline this time, just straight into the aggro: “With Labour fixated by Corbyn, the Tories have taken advantage of a feeble opposition. Here’s how they did it…”

The text itself makes no mention of Corbyn – he’s just a handy peg on which the sub-editors have hung a headline. The author, Daniel Boffey, accepts that Labour could not be at full strength while the future leader is unnamed and shadow cabinet members have no idea whether they are likely to remain in their posts.

Finally, we have Jeremy Corbyn suggests he would bring back Labour’s nationalising clause IV. Apparently we are supposed to think this is a bad thing but the text of the article betrays the headline once again.

“I think we should talk about what the objectives of the party are, whether that’s restoring clause IV as it was originally written or it’s a different one,” is what Corbyn actually said.

He’s telling the country that, as Labour leader, he would listen to the wishes of his supporters and work to give them what they want.

That’s better than Burnham, Cooper and Kendall rolled together – and much more than the likes of David Cameron, Boris Johnson or George Osborne would ever willingly provide (although we know that their offers aren’t worth the air used to speak them or the paper on which they are written).

This Blog is happy to support Jeremy Corbyn – if only for one simple reason:

He is the only Labour leadership candidate to have shown any support for the Early Day Motion calling for the Conservative Government to publish statistics on the deaths of Incapacity Benefit and Employment and Support Allowance claimants (EDM 285).

In fact, he co-sponsored it.

It was signed by 93 other MPs in the week or so between its creation and the day Parliament went into recess for the summer. I’ve been reminded that Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall cannot sign EDMs because they are members of the shadow cabinet and are barred from doing so. Why haven’t they spoken in favour of it, then? How many of their supporters have signed it?

What does that say about those other leadership candidates?

Does it not tell us that they are happy to collude with the Conservatives in keeping the casualties hidden?

And here’s another good question:

Why aren’t newspapers like The Guardian asking Burnham, Cooper and Kendall about that, rather than stirring up non-existent muck about Corbyn?

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What’s missing from this party’s campaign launch? The GREEN

Off-message? Natalie Bennett launches the Green Party's election campaign on BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Off-message? Natalie Bennett launches the Green Party’s election campaign on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Environmental issues were startlingly absent from the Green Party’s election campaign launch today (February 24).

Instead, party leader Natalie Bennett concentrated on policies that encroach into traditional Labour territory – a wealth tax; increasing the minimum wage to £10 by 2020; half a million new social rented homes; nationalising the railways; scrapping tuition fees; and a people’s constitutional convention “with the aim of achieving democracy for everyone”.

Of course, Labour has already announced plans for a wealth (mansion) tax; would increase the minimum wage (although not as high as £10 per hour); wants to build 100,000 homes a year (making 500,000 in a five-year Parliamentary term); would launch a national rail company to compete for franchises with the private firms; would reduce tuition fees; and wants a constitutional convention to sort out the democratic issues that have been debated since the Scottish independence referendum.

You see, the differences are all a matter of degree. The Greens would do the same as Labour, only more so. The only question is, who will provide the money?

Where were the policies to reduce pollution with green energy?

Why did the Green Party not restate its position on fracking?

Does it have policies on animal welfare (Labour does)?

What about defence?

Why only nationalise the railways, when other privatised utilities have been misbehaving left, right and centre?

So many unanswered questions, yet this is a party that has grown exponentially over the past year. Doesn’t it owe its new members better?

One thing that won’t be part of the current election campaign is the Green Party’s aspiration for a “citizens’ income”, replacing personal tax allowances and most means-tested benefits with a £72-per-week basic payment for all citizens, regardless of income.

Green leader Natalie Bennett was unable to explain how such a policy would be funded in a previous BBC interview. On Radio 4’s Today programme this morning she said it won’t be something for the 2015-20 Parliament, but added: “A commitment to the citizen’s income will be in our manifesto… it’s a massive change in the welfare system and it’s something we want to consult on and offer over time.”

She said it was a long term policy idea, “moving towards a system, getting away from where we are now, where so many people are living in fear of not being able to put food on the table, not being able to keep a roof over their head. Citizen’s income is an important way of moving forward with that.”

Perhaps sensitive to criticisms that she could not explain how it would be funded, she said: “We will be releasing a full costing before the election. The costing won’t be part of the manifesto. The costing will be before the election but the commitment to it [the policy of a citizen’s income] will be in the manifesto.”

Moving to Radio 5 Live, the Green leader discussed her commitment to enforcing a maximum wage ratio between the highest and lowest paid within a company. This is another good idea which Vox Political supports.

Asked whether some kind of wage cap would prevent organisations attracting the best staff, she said, “I think you have to look at how much money motivates people” – implying that the amount of money people are paid is less important to them than people are led to believe.

Moving over to LBC radio, she floundered when Nick Ferrari asked how much a plan to build 500,000 social rental homes would cost.

“We want to fund that particularly from removing tax relief from mortgage interest for private landlords,” she said. Apparently she thought that would rake in no less than £6 billion a year – but fell back on her line about “a fully-costed programme” to be released before the election.

Someone should have warned her that she can use that line too often – especially when taking it in conjunction with fellow Green member Jenny Jones’ comment at the press conference that followed: “You can ask as many questions as you like about our manifesto but we won’t be answering them today.”

So why hold the conference – and the launch – at all? Press teams left confused at the behaviour of a party that trailed so many juicy-looking policies but was either unwilling – or unable – to provide the essential details that could make them seem workable.

The BBC’s Norman Smith (whose own credibility was dealt a serious blow by Ed Miliband at a Labour campaign conference a few weeks ago) summed up the general feeling by questioning the validity of a Green Party that was no longer significantly “green”.

“Most of the things they are focusing on have nothing to do with greenery,” he told the BBC News website.

“Transport, housing, tuition fees – yes – but saving the planet seems to have been shuffled off to the side a bit.”

Won’t that alienate the Greens’ traditional constituents?

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Rachel Reeves’ weak speech has little to offer but social insecurity

Rachel Reeves: Look on the bright side - at least she isn't Liam Byrne.

Rachel Reeves: Look on the bright side – at least she isn’t Liam Byrne.

Was anyone else underwhelmed by Rachel Reeves’ speech in this years Labour conference?

Not by the promise to take the Bedroom Tax off the statute books, obviously. That has been a settled part of Labour policy since, well, since it landed on the statute books back in 2012. We should not take it for granted, though – and we must always remember that the Bedroom Tax won’t be going anywhere if the Blue Meanies manage to hang on to control after May next year.

But is anybody really convinced by her ‘Jobs Guarantee’? Is it really likely to work, or is it just another ‘make-work’ scheme? What difference will it make if private companies running the current work programme/mandatory work activity/workfare/whatever-they’re-called-today schemes are replaced by local councils and communities? Vox Political is based in Powys and the council here wouldn’t know how to help anybody get back into work off the back of any such scheme. Why should it be different elsewhere?

Do we really need a ‘Basic Skills Test’? Isn’t that an indictment of our education system – and shouldn’t that be where the skills gap ought to be tackled?

Did chills go up anybody else’s spine when Reeves mentioned a “pensions market“? Do we need a pensions market? Do you want to have to shop around for the best pension for you? Don’t you pay your National Insurance for the government to sort out that side of things and not make a mess of it?

And what did she mean by “tailored support” for disabled people who can work? By whose standards?

What did you make of her comments about the work capability assessment? “We need real reform”, she said. No! We don’t need reform! We need to scrap it altogether! It has never been fit for purpose; it never will be. The very word “assessment”, linked to a person’s sickness or disability, is tainted beyond reform. All that is necessary – all that has ever been necessary – is written confirmation of a person’s condition from – guess who? – a doctor. Work capability assessments are a waste of money and a risk to the health of sick and disabled people.

She said: “I give you this commitment: as Secretary of State I will come down hard on any contractor that gets these critical assessments wrong, or fails to treat disabled people with the decency and respect they deserve.” Do you think any such contractor was quaking in their boots at the thought of that? No.

What is she going to do about the Tories’ vindictive ‘mandatory reconsideration’ system? Will she agree to pay benefits to claimants while they await a decision, or will she forget them like the Tories forgot the ex-Remploy workers she mentioned in her speech?

She said Universal Credit was “stuck in first gear” – but made no promise to get rid of it. Its aim, under Tory control, is to ensure the government doesn’t have to spend as much money on benefit claimants. Even if Labour changes that – after it has been made to work at all, which is a hard battle in itself – there will be no way to stop the Tories changing it back into a weapon if the public ever becomes stupid enough to vote them back into office again. It would be far better to devise a scheme that the Tories could not pervert – difficult though such a task may be.

There was more good material than the Bedroom Tax, and it would be wrong to gloss over that. The plan to increase the Living Wage is good, and so is the plan to increase the minimum wage. But critics say the minimum wage provides employers with an excuse to reduce all pay to that still-paltry amount, so why isn’t she saying Labour will combat that? Labour could encourage companies to become employee-owned co-operatives; as co-owners, workers could ensure equitable rates of pay. These measures would go a long way to eliminating the “in-work benefit” element of the social security bill.

Labour should be going further, though. It should be renationalising railway firms that aren’t performing well enough, either by overcharging passengers, failing to invest in the service or simply demanding too high a subsidy from the taxpayer. These firms are supposed to be private – if we are still supporting them, we should still own them. At least, that way, we’d get the profits rather than some faceless shareholder.

Also on the nationalisation list should be power companies and water firms. The energy business seems to be a cartel, organised to screw customers out of as much money as possible – on pain of losing the power necessary to heat and light their homes, and cook their food. That must end. Whatever contract they were given when they were privatised, they have reneged on the deal and should be brought back under public control.

As for the water firms – they’re just tax avoidance schemes, aren’t they? Also, Yr Obdt Srvt seems to recall that one firm sold around 25 reservoirs to France, so they get the benefit of our water during hot summers while we have to suffer drought. That’s not why these firms were sold off. They should come back under public control, with stiff penalties for the shareholders who have abused the public trust.

Come to that, what about the construction industry? We need hundreds of thousands more homes – especially one- and two-bedroomed dwellings – to be defined as social housing, in order to stave off more Tory “captive victim” schemes like the Bedroom Tax. Why won’t the government employ the builders to carry out this work, starting on brown-field sites and avoiding green belt land, for the sake of the future?

Investment in work of this kind could revive the UK’s fortunes in a stroke – and would infinitely improve Labour’s offer to the public. The Attlee government did far more, starting from a far worse financial position so there is no reason to hesitate.

But Rachel Reeves has nothing to say about it.

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Cameron has shown that protecting the NHS from corporate rape is the last of his concerns

What a bunch of... bankers: As mentioned in the article, government ministers are happy to spend your money defending bankers' bonuses in the European Union - but when it comes to defending your publicly-funded health service, they haven't squeaked.

What a bunch of… bankers: As mentioned in the article, the government is happy to spend your money defending bankers’ bonuses in the European Union – but when it comes to defending your publicly-funded health service, they haven’t squeaked.

Remember the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership? Also known as TTIP? The proposed agreement between the EU and USA that – in its current form – would lock future UK governments into a legal framework that protects the privatisation of health services in this country?

A part of the agreement called the Investor-State Dispute Settlement would allow any commercial organisation the ability to sue governments that acted in an anti-commercial way such as – for example – re-nationalising health services that the Conservative-led Coalition has sold off to firms in which many government MPs have shady personal financial interests.

David Cameron used to have a cabinet minister responsible for handling negotiations on the TTIP – Kenneth Clarke, the Minister Without Portfolio (aha! Now we know what he was supposed to be doing for a living).

But of course Clarke left the government in the July reshuffle. He gave every indication that he was delighted to be going, which suggests that work on the TTIP was not agreeing with him.

Perhaps it was the weight of all those people campaigning against the locked-in commercialisation of the NHS, in which treatment for particular conditions will depend on whether it is profitable where you live, coupled with the weight of Cameron’s determination to do nothing to prevent it – all obscured by the veil of secrecy that all involved have tried to draw across the negotiations.

Unite’s Len McCluskey told the Huffington Post: “First David Cameron claims there are no exemptions [so the NHS will be included in the deal – we should always remember that is Cameron’s default position], then EU Trade Commission[er] Karel De Gucht suggests that the NHS may have been exempted.

“Now civil servants are sending out statements claiming that the NHS was never in TTIP to begin with. It seems the government simply does not know what the world’s largest bilateral trade deal actually covers.”

Confusion! That’s an excellent way to slip in unwelcome changes – but it would mean the government was admitting its own incompetence.

McCluskey added: “David Cameron can choose to exempt the NHS if he’s prepared to fight for it. He was prepared to go to Europe to defend bankers’ bonuses.”

Good point. Despite the fact that bankers caused the financial crisis and many banks are still in debt, Cameron went to Europe to defend the ridiculously high bonuses they continue to award themselves. Then again, Cameron and his ministers have spent the last five years pretending that the crisis was entirely the fault of the previous Labour government. They must think we are stupid if they think we’ll swallow that – and we must bear that in mind when considering Coalition policy towards the TTIP.

Under the TTIP, a few other British standards will also suffer, according to the HuffPost:

  • We will be forced to accept other countries’ rules. UKIP voters take note that your party supports the TTIP.
  • Bosses will be allowed to reduce wages and hammer labour rights.
  • Food regulations will be weakened to allow banned products – like chlorine-bleached chicken and growth hormones in beef – into the country.
  • The UK could be forced to reverse its ban on asbestos in order to match US standards, leading to an increase in lung cancer and mesothelioma.
  • Private information about you could become public under e-commerce provisions – although it seems the Conservative-led UK government is already determined to publicise as much of your personal information as possible.

Put it all together and you can tell why the Coalition, the EU and the USA all want to keep this squalid deal secret!

The question is: Are you going to let them get away with it?

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Profiteering energy firms would be stupid to believe they can hold Labour to ransom

Miliband's cost-of-living crusade starts here. [Picture: Metro - from an article in August headlined 'Energy company profits rise 74 per cent in 48 months']

Miliband’s cost-of-living crusade starts here. [Picture: Metro – from an article in August headlined ‘Energy company profits rise 74 per cent in 48 months’]

The UK’s private energy companies will be playing a very dangerous game if they think they can call Ed Miliband’s bluff on price-freezing.

According to The Guardian, Mr Miliband’s announcement that energy prices will be frozen for 20 months under a Labour government has sparked a chorus of protest from the affected firms.

In the first skirmish in the new political battle over the cost of living in the UK, Mr Miliband wants to “reset” what he sees as a “failing” energy market in which customers had paid £3.9 billion more than necessary since 2010. The measure would save families an average of £120 and businesses £1,800.

Energy firms say it would lead to blackouts similar to those seen in California. They say it will stall investment in new power stations.

Energy UK, which represents the largely foreign-owned energy firms, said: “It will… freeze the money to build new power stations, freeze the jobs of 600,000 people dependent on energy industry and [make] the prospect of energy shortages a reality.”

Here’s Centrica: “If prices were to be controlled against a backdrop of rising costs, it would simply not be economically viable for Centrica or indeed any other energy supplier to continue to operate and far less to meet their sizeable investment challenges the industry is facing.”

And Ian Peters, head of residential energy at British Gas, said: “If we have no ability to control what what we do in retail prices and wholesale prices suddenly go up within a single year that will threaten energy security.”

Labour has said the claims were “patently absurd” and “nonsense” put about by the large energy companies.

Mr Miliband said: “There’s a crisis of confidence in the system. It’s time we fixed it and they can either choose to be part of the problem or part of the solution. I hope they choose to be part of the solution.”

Suppliers say prices have gone up to cover their rising environmental and social obligations and in response to commodity price rises – sums paid on wholesale markets. So let’s examine the profits made by the “big six” – British Gas, EDF, E.On, npower, Scottish Power and SSE – over the last few years (figures courtesy of the BBC): In 2009, £2.15 billion. In 2010, £2.22 billion. 2011 – £3.87 billion (a massive hike of £1,870,000,000 in a single year). And in 2012 – £3.74 billion. That’s £11.98 billion in profits over four years – a huge and unwarranted amount in these times of supposed austerity.

And let’s not forget – this is pure profit. None of that money will have been reinvested into the companies. It goes to the shareholders.

It is while sitting on such huge amounts that these companies are trying to tell us they won’t be able to afford theinvestments to which they have signed up; that they won’t be able to increase employee pay. And it is while sitting on this massive pile of cash that they are threatening us with blackouts if they aren’t allowed to continue demanding huge price rises.

Well, it won’t wash.

Doesn’t it seem more likely that, faced with threatened blackouts, Mr Miliband will choose to re-nationalise the energy firms, rather than back down?

After all, they would be reneging on their contract to provide energy to the United Kingdom. This could be just what Mr Miliband needs to bring them back under State control, where energy generation and distribution belongs. And it would show he is serious about having the strength to “stand up to powerful vested interests”.

Naysayers may point out that this would only put him back in a position of being at the unions’ mercy, instead of under the thumb of big business, but this isn’t true either – the Tories restricted the unions’ power massively back in the 1980s.

Besides, new structures have come into being since then. What if the energy companies were re-constituted as Nationalised Workers’ Co-operatives? This would entail every employee receiving a percentage of any profits – possibly along the lines of the successful John Lewis model – with the remainder ploughed back into the Treasury to reduce income tax bills.

Such an arrangement should silence any dissent among workers as they would receive two slices of the pie – a profit-driven bonus and a tax cut – while everyone else has lower energy bills, together with the tax cut.

If it were proven to be successful, then employees of the other privatised utilities could soon be queueing up to have their companies re-nationalised as well.