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Former transport minister warns Scottish Government not to re-nationalise railways

Former transport minister warns Scottish Government not to re-nationalise railways

ScotRail train - Image credit: aureolindn

A former UK transport minister has called on the Scottish Government not to re-nationalise the railways, calling it “expensive, childish and counter-productive”.

Tom Harris, a former UK Government transport minister, has produced a report on the future of Scotland’s railways, called ‘Is Scotland on the right track?’ 

The report was commissioned by Abellio, who currently run ScotRail, but Harris says it was researched, written and managed independently and claims to make an “objective assessment” of the state of railway industry in Scotland.

According to the report, the industry has been very successful since the end of British Rail, with passenger numbers in Scotland have doubling in the last 15 years.

Harris suggests that franchises have been an essential part of this renaissance by applying private sector disciplines, strategies and flexibility.

It point out that nationalisation is not the only alternative structure to the current one, and claims making a radical change on ideological grounds would not benefit customers.

Instead it calls for there to be more focus on delivering passenger priorities, particularly value for money.

It recommends that government and industry should provide more clarity on the layers of responsibility so that the public knows with whom the fault lies when something goes wrong and that Network Rail should radically reorganise its structures on a more localised basis, starting with a pilot in Scotland.

Tom Harris said: “When it comes to the railways, bad news is big news and good news is no news.

“Because of that, we’d be forgiven for thinking that our railways are a disaster, but this is manifestly not true. In fact, for the whole of this century we have seen a remarkable railway renaissance.

“Our polling research has shown that the public in general are complimentary about the performance of Scotland’s railways (see notes to editors).

“However, there are problems, and those problems have led to some politically charged calls for blanket nationalisation.

“The Scottish Government should not ignore this, but also it should not throw the baby out with the bathwater. If it feels the need to change the franchise model, it should consider moving to a concession model where the government shoulders both profit and risk, but the private sector runs the service.

“It would be expensive, childish and counter-productive to dispense with the clear and indisputable benefits of private sector involvement in our railways, without which we would not have experienced the renaissance we have seen.”

However, Manuel Cortes, leader of the TSSA union, said the fact that Abellio had commissioned the research was a sign of how desperate the company has become to hold on to ScotRail, regardless of the cost to the Scottish people.

He said: “This report shows that 50 per cent of Scots rate bringing railways into public ownership as one of their top three priorities.

“Even Abellio’s own propaganda shows people are fed up with them and want ScotRail run in the public sector.

“We saw at the weekend that one in seven ScotRail trains arrived late in June and July this year. “Abellio should be focusing on delivering a better service not trying to distract the public with a report.

He continued: “The report fails to make any convincing case for privatisation. The improvement to rail services this century are largely down to Network Rail – which the last Labour government nationalised.

“All Harris does is claim that everything good on the railways is down to the TOCs and everything bad is down to factors outside their control.

“If Abellio can’t run an efficient railway on a 45 per cent subsidy then they should hand back the keys.”

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