Slush For Brains?

Submitted by Janine on Mon, 11/13/2006 - 14:24

As jblog's regular reader and various locals will know, I am in the habit of writing to the Hackney Gazette. Of late, this has largely been on the subject of East London Line privatisation. One letter per subject would usually suffice but oddly, the advocates of the policy have come up with this bizarre argument that privatisation is not in fact privatisation, so I had to give it a few more shots (one of which I've copied below).

Now I'm stumbling across other quite peculiar and/or irritating arguments as to why the East London Line should not stay in public ownerhsip.

Here's a corker ... apparently, the idea of public ownership of the railways is 'old-fashioned'. Now I might not be the world's greatest history scholar, but I do know that private ownership of the railways pre-dated public ownership by at least a century.

And here's another ... apparently, I have 'slush for brains', accordingly to a commenter who, er, doesn't actually make any comments. Except for offering points to readers of an article by yours truly if they can spot any "emotionally charged statement without any supported argument", "omission of an obvious fact that damages the author's argument" and "each outright lie". He would obviously make a good Eurovision entry, as he scores nul points. In fact, despite posting this message nearly three years ago, he has yet to point out where I committed any of the political crimes he accuses me of. Ho hum.

I'll help him out - you could get me on the factual accuracy, because the dates I quoted for the line's refurb are now out-of-date because the schedule has slipped back a year or two. But it was right at the time, so no - still nul points.

Anyway, for those tempted to believe the Livingstone line that this is "not really privatisation", here's my latest missive to the Gazette ...

Why does Jennette Arnold [our local GLA member] find it so hard to admit the truth about the planned privatisation of the East London Line?

The simple facts are this. While TfL will act as an umbrella organisation covering London's transport, the new 'London Overground' - the North and East London lines combined - will be run by a private train operating company. The shortlist is:

  • National Express, which currently operates the Silverlink franchise.
  • Govia, which runs Southern and South Eastern and is a joint venture between the Go-Ahead Group and Keolis.
  • MTR Laing, a joint venture between Laing (which runs Chiltern Railways) and MTR (which operates the Hong Kong metro).
  • NedRail, the Dutch state railway. It already runs, as part of a joint-venture with SERCO, the Northern Rail franchise and the Merseyrail concession.

Private companies, all four of them.

No matter how much Jennette denies it, the process of allowing a private company to take over what a public company (in this case, London Underground) currently does is called "privatisation".

The fact that TfL will set fares and service levels does not change this. If the private operator can not make profits by raising fares, it will find another way - perhaps cutting corners on safety, or cleaning the trains and stations less often, or employing fewer people, or attacking the pay and conditions of the staff. Jennette's assertion that "all revenue will go back to TfL" is mistaken: at least some of it will go into the private operator's profits and directors' fat-cat salaries. Otherwise, these companies would not be bidding to operate the service.

And as for her cheap jibe about rail union leaders, I can assure you that no union leader tells me what to think. Trade union members, local people, every union present at TUC Congress, and three-quarters of people questioned in a recent opinion poll, have made up our own minds and oppose privatisation of the East London line.

So why is Jennette so keen to pretend this is not privatisation? Because the vast majority of people oppose rail privatisation (not surprisingly, given the disaster it has been in practice), and will not be convinced to support a further privatisation on the East London line.

Let's have a public Tube for Hackney.

Janine Booth
Hackney TUC


Submitted by matt h on Mon, 11/13/2006 - 16:41

A slight nit-pick - I've never heard of "NedRail", but assuming it is a foreign brandname for "NS", the Dutch railway, they're no-longer run by the state, but privatised. Buying a ticket at a counter there costs €3,50 more than using a machine.

Submitted by Janine on Mon, 11/13/2006 - 21:06

Thanks for that information. I got my info from the RMT!

Submitted by Janine on Wed, 11/15/2006 - 16:14

OK, this is what I've been able to find out by way of clarification ... The majority of rail passenger services in the Netherlands are state provided by either NS Reizigers and/or NS Internationaal.

The Dutch government separated passenger and infrastructure functions in the 1990s in line with the EU Directive but both are still state-owned, though there are some private operators on the network eg. Arriva.

NedRail is a division of NS as a joint venture with SERCO. The Dutch part of the venture is entirely state owned.

More on Wikipedia

Submitted by matt h on Thu, 11/16/2006 - 20:20

There's a problem with Wikipedia, and that's that you can never be quite sure whether it's true what's written there. Of course, that's the case with any source of information - but in this case, the German Wikipedia states the opposite...

"NS is the former state railway company, which has been privatised [...], the track is not owned by NS but has been transferred to the company ProRail which is under the control of the ministry of transport."

Having read a bit more it seems NS has been 'pre-privatised', i.e. it is run as a entirely capitalist enterprise (more so than a nationalised company would be) - that seems to mean a high advertising budget, painting things, new uniforms and cutting staff and 'financially non-viable' services; but its shares are still held by the state, who could choose to (attempt to) sell them at any time when the capitalists' interest is large enough to want to buy them - and when industrial and passenger action doesn't seem likely to stop them (which, incidentally, stopped previous attempts at a sell off in 1999/2000).

In the meantime, as with the German railways, it's busy getting involved in other markets where privatisation is more 'developed'.

Perhaps I'll get round to amending that German Wikipedia page...but that's enough trainspottery.