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29.09.15

Labour to back renationalising railways and vow to end ‘top down’ politics

The Labour Party is expected to solidify its support towards rail renationalisation plans today (29 September) after the National Executive Committee (NEC) proposes that the government should not wait until franchises expire before making services public.

During today’s Labour conference, the NEC will put forward a statement on rail demonstrating the party has firmed up its position in relation to leader Jeremy Corbyn’s renationalisation policies revealed by PSE last week.

According to the Guardian, the NEC statement will go further than last week’s policies, which proposed a fast-track to renationalisation by bringing one-third of franchises under public ownership by 2025 after they expired.

The Committee will now say that, if the party is elected in 2020, it will not necessarily wait until franchises expire before making services public. It would instead use “break clauses to intervene sooner”.

It will say that the party will set up a rail taskforce to develop ideas, such as “bringing private franchises into public ownership as they expire and also using break clauses to accelerate the process when this is in the interests of passengers and taxpayers”.

The move towards the NEC’s more decisive statement was originally pitched by the TSSA, whose general secretary, Manuel Cortes, told the Guardian that Labour should speed up renationalisation through break clauses, which would exist in every franchise.

Only five franchises – East Coast, Southern, Chiltern, Northern and TransPennine Express – would be up for “full renewal” over the next government if no break clauses were used.

At the general election, the party was hesitant to back renationalisation plans in full and instead recommended that public TOCs should be able to bid for expired franchises alongside private companies, without being prioritised.

This was backed in part by a spokesman for the Rail Delivery Group – representing Network Rail and TOCs – who said the UK rail network is “vitally important” and better than others around the world because of the “winning combination of private sector competition and government funding”.

But Corbyn told the Independent that there was “overwhelming support from the British people for a People’s Railway, better and more efficient services, proper integration and fairer fares”.

He added: “On this issue, it won’t work to have a nearly-but-not-quite position. Labour will commit to a clear plan for a fully integrated railway in public ownership.”

The party’s taskforce to develop further plans will be headed by Lilian Greenwood MP, shadow transport secretary, who will welcome contributions from transport and disability-access campaigners, passenger groups, councils, rail industry representatives and employees in order to establish an “inclusive process”.

Shadow communities secretary Jon Trickett also spoke during the conference this afternoon, warning that councils are currently “on the edge of a financial precipice”.

He argued that the Conservative party is putting essential services at risk by “attacking local democracy” and threatening the “central ethos” of public service – the idea that some services are “best provided collectively”, most notably in relation to housing and education. He added that staff are “too often on unacceptably low pay” across public services.

Trickett vowed to put an end to “Britain’s top down politics” starting with local communities and locally-elected councils, promising to “see meetings in town, village and church halls up and down the land”.

Jeremy Corbyn is now set to give his speech at 2.30pm in his first conference as party leader.

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