Leave the rail industry alone

It’s sometimes wiser to avoid change for change’s sake and it’s why I oppose government plans to privatise the East Coast Main Line.

Most northern MPs united against privatisation in a recent Commons debate.

The chancellor says we should balance the books and keep costs down for taxpayers. He should chat with the transport secretary who ignores how the publicly owned line provides vast sums of money to the national coffers.

And value for money. It has far less public subsidy than private operators and reinvests its profits in the service rather than dividends.

As one who has used the line since I was a child and now twice a week to Westminster and back, I can say that the service is very good.

I have also seen many improvements in the past three years. The trains are mostly punctual and staff are always friendly and helpful.

Most delays are beyond the control of the company, which operates a fantastic compensation scheme that refunds the fare.

The rewards scheme means that there is plenty of opportunity for free journeys, which also saves money on MPs’ expenses.

Could we seriously expect the same from a private operator whose first priority is to keep its shareholders happy? Experience elsewhere suggests not.

Privatisation for privatisation’s sake would ignore what is best for the rail industry. It’s best to leave well alone.

Frances O’Grady, the TUC chief who chairs Action for Rail, rightly says that privatisation defies all logic. It shows that the government spurns evidence-based policy for the sake of the interests of private companies and shareholders rather than commuters, taxpayers and staff.