Hit the ground running

Manuel Cortes on taking the profit motive out of transport

Let’s face it, with the shadow of Brexit continuing to hang over our country it’s highly likely this awful Conservative Government could soon be gone – good riddance!

A vote of No Confidence in Johnson and his free market loving chums over crashing out of the EU with No Deal could well see Jeremy Corbyn come to power in a resulting General Election.

Our Labour Party must be ready not only to fight and win an election, but to implement a programme for the renewal of our country.

Labour must hit the ground running. After nearly a decade of needless, brutally destructive austerity our people need wholesale transformative change which must begin on day one of a Labour government.

In our union, and well beyond, there has been a long and hard-fought campaign to bring our railways back into public ownership, something which was also a cornerstone of the For The Many 2017 manifesto.

Aside from driving the privateers out of the NHS there would be no more popular move than ending the great railway rip off at once.

Privatisation has been an abject failure since the word go. In this ultimate scam we the public have been continually ripped off right, left and centre, with ticket prices escalating while levels of service continue to plummet.

Since 1994 rail fares have risen twice as fast as wages with privateers laughing all the way to the bank. Just consider this – passengers are fleeced not once but twice when they travel on our railways. Once for the extortionate fares and again through general taxation which goes towards the subsidies paid out to rail companies by the Government. Richard Branson himself once described this as a “licence to print money”. And for once, he was dead right!

Yet in this deliberately fragmented system companies own neither the trains, nor the tracks or other infrastructure. They are little more than a shell, designed to maximise profit and keep staffing levels as low as possible.

That raises the question of safety – rightly the number one issue to all our members who have vowed never to go back to the bad old days of Hatfield and Potters Bar.

Make no mistake, the only way of making sure that our railways are properly resourced, and therefore as safe as possible, is to remove the profit motive.

This is not intended as an appeal to the new Tory Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps; though he’d be hard pressed to do a poorer job than his predecessor, Chris ‘Failing’ Grayling – the worst Secretary of State I’ve ever known.

Only an incoming Labour Government will have the wherewithal and political will to put people, passengers and the long-term future of public transport front and centre.

What does this mean? Aside from publicly owning our railways, it also means pushing ahead with High Speed Two (HS2) all the way to Scotland. Doing so would not only lay the foundation for a 21st century railway but put rocket boosters under regional economies.

It also means developing a radical transport policy and our union has been examining the viability of a Taktfahrplan – or clock face timetable –approach.

This is named after the Swiss model which sees the coordination of all forms of public transport at local and national level, scheduled for the benefit of passengers rather than commercial interests.

We also stand ready to assist a Labour Government in dealing with the coming technological advances on our railways, and have already held a Future of Rail conference focussing on changes that are taking place in our industry as a result of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Nor should we overlook the importance of getting it right on the future of freight. What’s needed is an increase in capacity on our railways, something which, at a stroke, would move freight away from roads, combatting CO2 emissions.

We live in the third most congested country in Europe and fourth most congested in the developed world. It’s a staggering fact that congestion on our roads costs Britain £30 billion a year.

So, transport is no quiet backwater for our next Labour government. Getting it right will change the lives of millions for the better and for the long term. That is the prize of getting Jeremy into number 10!

Manuel Cortes

Manuel Cortes is the TSSA General Secretary.