Leader of the Labour group on Peterborough City Council, Cllr Shaz Nawaz:
The Labour Group and I heartily welcome the return of the East Coast rail franchise to public ownership; when I worked in London, this route constituted my daily journey.
Churchill’s maxim about the Americans seems more apropos for this government than for our friends across the Atlantic, they “did the right thing after exhausting all other possibilities”.
Under public ownership, the profits that LNER makes will be used to provide better services rather than satisfy shareholders. Under public ownership, the government will be directly accountable: to invoke another American example, as per Harry Truman, “the buck stops” with Chris Grayling. He cannot say that he is not responsible, he cannot shift the blame.
We have become so accustomed to believing that private enterprise is more efficient than public ownership that there is a tendency to ignore these benefits. This applies to Peterborough City Council as well as national government. When it was decided that we would no longer work with Amey, the city council’s first response was to suggest setting up a new company, which would be a profit-making enterprise. But this begs the question: profits from whom? And where will the profits go?
The profits are going to come from the provision of public services including waste disposal and the maintenance of our public spaces. In effect, the private company will profit from the taxpayers. The documentation I’ve seen so far has suggested that this will supposedly be cheaper than taking the services totally in house, in effect, returning them to part-public ownership. There are presently no figures to back up this assertion; it is, at the moment, an article of faith.
When we propose spending public money, we need to be clear eyed and meticulous. There is something altogether strange about the council’s preferred scenario: in a normal market situation, a customer would be able to choose a provider to pick up the rubbish or mow the grass at Central Park. However, in this instance, the city government is forcing the citizens to pick a particular provider that it sets up itself. It is creating, in effect, a monopoly, and it is one which does not have the reassurance of full public ownership to ensure that its motives are correctly guided.
It begs the question: why can’t we learn from the example of Virgin and LNER? Prior to being taken over by Virgin, the publicly run East Coast rail line was one of the most efficient.
Virgin had to depart its contract early and the line had to be restored to public ownership, which is likely where it should have stayed in the first place. How much longer must Peterborough be subject to the experiments of market fundamentalism? Rather, we should be pragmatic and frugal. In the coming weeks, the Labour Group will work towards getting a robust estimate for taking services in house, so that we can truly see if the council’s current plans are warranted. The taxpayers deserve no less.