The Untouchables – The Real Great Train Robbery
Fifty years ago, a mail train was held up by on 8th August 1963, the robbers getting away with £2 million pounds. This immense sum of money was obtained violently and with little respect for law. Those of us old enough to remember it will have our own memories of that time. British Rail and Post Office Mail were respected public services. How dare such a group of irresponsible, selfish men mount an attack damaging such revered services? We believed they were Untouchable. How wrong we were.
Click Image for BBC “Witness”
Robbery with violence, the culprits escaped with most of the money, some fleeing the country to safe-havens like South America. Much has been written about the fugitives, and their subsequent lives.
The Real Great Train Robbery
The Real Great Train Robbery of 1993, echoed the aforementioned event which occurred thirty years previously. The Real Great Train Robbery was the privatisation of the publicly owned British Rail from the people of Britain. This robbery from was also from innocent people, and made an immense amount of money for a very few people, and the facts are astounding.
The privatisation of British Rail was set in motion when the Conservative government enacted, on 19 January 1993, the British Coal and British Rail (Transfer Proposals) Act 1993. This enabled the relevant Secretary of State to issue directions (as to the disposal of holdings) to the relevant Board. This was necessary since (in the case of the British Railways Board) they had to act, at all times, within the rules established by various Transport and Railways Acts – none of which would have allowed the Board to ‘sell-off’ any of its assets. .. (Wikipedia)
Facts and Profits
Prior to privatisation schemes, governments manipulate statistics, regarding costs, and performance. As we are currently seeing with the NHS and Royal Mail, tactics are to convince the public that the service is under performing. Whether it is achieved by starving a service of staff or funding, or changing the methods by which performance is measured, we have seen it all. Efficiency was a brainwashing-buzz-word, anaesthetising the public from the reality, shepherding a supposed flock into believing the myth that private is good, public is bad.
No more patronising! Let’s have clear statistics. The blatant truth is that privatisation schemes siphon off profits to a few individuals like a leaky lifeboat aboard the Titanic. Ultimately we are all doomed by a political system set up to benefit a few and paid for by the populace.
Following privatisation, government support to the rail industry, increased. The costs to passengers has increased. Debts have increased. The cost to ordinary people is growing merely by paying the interest payments – to bankers! Meanwhile, Directors are reaping in massive bonuses of unto £11 Million, (Telegraph) and share holders stash their funds off-shore. I wonder how this compared with Ronnie Biggs’?
A new TUC Report shows that it is the shareholders who have benefitted the most from rail privatisation.
‘The Great Train Robbery’ – written for the TUC by the Centre for Research on Social-Cultural Change at the University of Manchester – says that private train companies are ‘heavily dependent upon the public purse’ to enable them to run services.
“In addition, most profit made by train operators goes to shareholders. The report says that rhe top five recipients alone received almost £3 billion in taxpayer support between 2007 and 2011. This allowed them to make operating profits of £504 million – £466 million of which was paid to shareholders.
Rolling stock investment has fallen back at times, with £1.9 billion spent on rolling stock between 2008 and 2012, compared with £3.2 billion between 1989 and 1993. However, some industry sources suggest this could be misleading, because there was more investment in the earlier years of privatisation, when new fleets were procured for Virgin, TransPennine Express, ScotRail and the three third-rail operators south of London which play a key role in the commuter market. Indeed, the formerly large slam-door electric fleets had been replaced by 2005-6”.
The Office of Rail Regulation has warned the government that Britain’s railways are ‘on the edge of a funding crisis’ and will have debts approaching £50 billion by the end of the decade. The ORR, in a report,(..) reveals that interest payments will eat up one-third of Network Rail’s budget by 2029…
‘The privatised train operating companies are making big profits at public expense – and then shipping those profits, in the form of dividends, off shore – while the burden for Network Rail gets ever heavier.
So Labour missed an opportunity to renationalise the rail industry post 1997, but to include rationalisation of the railways in their manifesto for 2015 would be welcome, as this survey from Labour List shows.
The first question we asked was on cost, with nearly half of all voters (42%) saying that they believed that public control of the railways would make them cheaper for passengers. Only 12.7% believed that renationalising the railways would make fares more expensive:
Across every age, gender, social class, party affiliation and region, the most popular answer was that public control of the railways would make them cheaper. This suggests that as the impact of rising train fares is an issue that resonates, the renationalisation of the railways, as an option the public believes would be cheaper for them, is back on the agenda.
We then went on to ask voters whether they thought that the service would get better or worse if the railways were returned to public control. Again, those believing that the service would improve (37.9%) vastly outweighed those who believed that the quality of the railways would decline (14.4%):
The only group who felt that the quality of the railways would decline were Tory voters. Supporters of every other party, every region, every social class and gender believed that the railways were more likely to improve than decline if returned to public control.
A reliable, affordable, publicly owned transport network, would not only be a vote winner. It would benefit the environment and would go a long way towards improving the cost of living for ordinary people. Transport poverty must be addressed by a future Labour government.
The poorest ten per cent of car-owning households in the UK are mired in transport poverty and are spending at least 27% of their disposable income on buying and running a vehicle. This equates to roughly 800,000 homes. By contrast, those in the wealthiest car-owning households are spending around 12% of their disposable incomes on purchasing and operating a car. The high level of expenditure is revealed in analysis of data from ONS. (RAC). Fare prices are rising much more steeply than wages, yet data from FullFact.org suggests in general people are paying a smaller proportion of income on transport. This may be due to very higher housing costs, or that people are travelling less to avoid the very high fares, and therefore will impact on quality of life, and possibly ability to travel for work. With public transport in private ownership, some people in rural areas find bus routes withdrawn, and with the cost of running a car taking up to a quarter of their income, working families are left struggling, falling into debt, going hungry.
Responsible Transport Policy
Transport, like housing and other utilities impacts so much on people’s day to day lives, that it needs to be democratically owned and managed. This is why renationalisation of railways, public transport and utilities , must feature in Labour’s manifesto as well as affordable housing and job guarantees. Governments serve the people – that is why they exist.Their purpose is to ensure the people they serve have work, and are fed, watered and sheltered, and have a reasonable standard of living. Responsible governments should ensure that the elderly, disabled or unfit are cared for and do not suffer further because of their disability. Transport for the disabled should be an intrinsic part of a structured transport policy. Cuts to (Disability Living Allowance) DLA, has left disabled people without transport which has profound effects on quality of living and their ability to work. Removal of the Education Maintenance Allowance in England has had a negative effect of the life prospects of young people from middle and low income families.
Affordability, availability, safety and environmental impact are all important factors which are compromised by a transport system in private ownership, where shareholders’ profits are the priority. A transport system left fractured by the privatisation break-up leaves a chaos where every sector exerts influence for its own self interests. What is needed is an integrated transport system, taking all factors into account. This can only be achieved by a renationalisation system… and such a policy from Labour would be welcomed by the electorate. Then, let us add those other Untouchables, the NHS, Education, Water, Energy, Fire Services, Prisons, Royal Mail and renationalise all that the Tories have taken away by stealth. That is the way for the Real Labour Party. Let’s do it.
1. Public Ownership For Our Railways comes that little bit closer with the launch of a new nationwide campaign coordinated by our friends Action For Rail. Join us for the national Day of Action next TUESDAY 13 AUGUST at stations all over the country and at our massive demonstration in London. Watch this space for the London location being announced tomorrow or follow the link for further details…
References and Further Reading :
- Wikipedia: The Great Train Robbery
- BBC Witness – The Great Train Robbery
- ASLEF: Network Rails’ Debt Burden http://www.aslef.org.uk/information/138737/network_rail_debt_burden/
- Guardian: Network Rail Debts could climb to £50BN by 2020 says watchdog
- Telegraph: Network Rail Bosses could get £11 Million in pay and bonuses under new deal.
- Wikipedia: Privatisation of British Rail
- Rail News: New TUC Report says Rail privatisation is “broken”.
- Railways are too important to run on Greed: Left Futures
- Guardian: If you think privatisation and outsourcing are sacred: Read this.
- Guardian: Network Rail must cut £2 Bn from spending plans says regulator.
- Factcheck: Does the Taxpayer subsidise the rail network more now than when it was nationalised?
- Paying for Privatisation: RMT on the McNulty Report into the Railways
- LabourList The Public want Rail renationalisation
- RAC 800,000 people spending one quarter of their income on cars
- This is Money: Hard up households spend up to a quarter of their income on running a car
- Full Fact Org Is rising cost of public transport leaving us out of pocket?
- Labour Party – Maria Eagle: Cost of living to be focus of Labour’s transport review
From Think Left: