From the TUC

What’s wrong with the EU’s 4th Railway Package?

23 Oct 2013, by in Public services

Under David Cameron we have a cost of living crisis. Prices have gone up faster than wages in 38 of 39 months while he has been Prime Minister and working people are almost £1,500 a year worse off.

Over the last three years David Cameron has failed to stand up for working people, allowing train companies to hit passengers with inflation busting fare rises of up to nine per cent. Far from addressing his failure, the Government’s Rail fares and ticketing review is cold comfort for commuters – it  has taken 18 months, delivers fare increases of up to six per cent and is too little too late. This announcement doesn’t go as far as Labour’s plans which would prevent train companies from increasing fares beyond one per cent above inflation.

When the Intercity franchises expire in the next Parliament we will have an opportunity for genuine reform, but new EU rules known as the Fourth Railway Package would not only enforce the status quo in the UK – but would impose it on the rest of Europe too.

No-one should doubt that this is an ideologically driven agenda. Even the European Commission concedes that the evidence for imposing rail privatisation is ‘ambiguous’ and describes compulsory tendering as a ‘political choice.’

We are currently fighting against another political choice, namely the Government’s ideological decision to re-privatise East Coast services.

East Coast has gone from strength to strength since 2009, boasting a much improved timetable and better passenger satisfaction ratings than it did under its failed private operators. It has reinvested £40 million into the service and by the end of the financial year East Coast will have returned £800 million to the taxpayer.

But David Cameron would rather privatise the service than see a successful British alternative to franchising. He wants to see us in an absurd position where the French, German or Dutch national railways could bid to run the East Coast, but the current British operator would be barred.

Under the Fourth Railway Package, we would not even have the choice to maintain the East Coast as a public sector comparator.

We also have concerns over safety standards: the UK has one of the safest railway systems in the world, and our high standards must not be levelled down by any agreement in Brussels.

There are some sensible suggestions in this Package, such as moves to promote interoperability, which would benefit the freight industry in particular. But we believe the decision on passenger service ownership is best made at a national level. That’s why we in the Labour Party will continue to oppose the Fourth Railway Package in its present form.

GUEST POST: Lilian Greenwood was a member of the Transport Select Committee before joining the Shadow Transport team in 2011. She has been Shadow Rail Minister since January 2013 and was elected as Labour MP for Nottingham South in 2010.