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  • Writer's pictureNOR4NOR

John McDonnell: "We're developing participation, regional coordination and public ownership"

Updated: Sep 28, 2019

Writing for an upcoming pamphet produced for our 2019 Rail Summit, shadow John McDonnell puts forward the case for public ownership on the railways.

Our railways are in a state of disarray.

We’ve seen steep hikes in fares. Passengers faced timetabling chaos in 2018. And years of under-investment have left large parts of the country with failing rail infrastructure, as money has been diverted to dividend payouts and eye-watering salaries for rail bosses.

In case all that’s not bad enough, British rail passengers have to put up with the unstinting ineptitude of Transport Secretary Chris Grayling.

Grayling announced last year that Keith Williams would lead a year-long independent review of the rail industry to come up with “ambitious recommendations for reform”.

Our position in the Labour Party has been clear. The only ambitious reform that would truly meet the needs of passengers, and address the root causes of the failings of our railways, is bringing rail franchises back into public ownership.

Public ownership of rail can do at least three things.

First, it brings much needed coherence to a fragmented train network. Public ownership can provide a ‘guiding mind’ to plan and oversee the network. Incremental efforts at greater coordination within the privatised system won’t be enough.

Second, public ownership improves accountability. The current system, with multiple train companies as well as other actors, encourages buck-passing – as happened last year with the timetabling fiasco. Public ownership will keep the rail network responsive to government, and answerable to passengers and the general public.

Third, public of the railways is simply more efficient. The next Labour government will ensure that the railway has longer time horizons for planning, and can secure economies of scale. Investment in expertise can build back public capacity. It can also help to provide the innovation that the private sector has so rarely delivered, despite all its promises.

This is not about going back to the public ownership of the past. Instead, we’re developing creative plans for participation, regional coordination, and public ownership for the twenty-first century.

We’re continuing to develop and deepen our policy on public ownership of the rail. Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald and his team are developing detailed plans for how the railway will work as an integrated whole under public ownership. We’ve also said we’ll set up a Public Ownership Unit in the Treasury with specialised legal and financial knowledge to support the transition to public ownership in mail, rail, energy, and water.

We’re ready to answer the public’s call for public ownership. We know, from 2017 polls, that 76% of the British public want the trains back in public hands. And we’re prepared to turn that support for nationalisation into workable, pragmatic policy.

Norfolk for the Nationalisation of Rail, NOR4NOR, is doing valuable work as we move forward. NOR4NOR is helping to expand the coalition of support for public ownership, and feeding into ongoing public debate about how to democratise public ownership.

This pamphlet is another example of that work. I congratulate you for putting it together, and look forward to working with you – and readers – as we seek to change this government, and to transform our society.

John McDonnell MP


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