Nationalised Express – public ownership for East Coast rail route

Great news, as it is a step towards ending the corporate domination of our railways which has cost us dearly both as taxpayers and passengers.

The general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union has backed the move:

“RMT welcomes todays announcement by the Government on the renationalisation of the East Coast route but this shouldn’t be a short term, crisis measure.

“It should be a long term solution to the chaos that privatisation has brought to the UK’s most lucrative rail franchise.

“RMT’s national AGM will send a clear message to the Government today that they should strip National Express of their other franchises and use this opportuinity to begin the process of renationalising the rail network,” said Bob Crow.

John McDonnell MP, RMT Parliamentary Group Convenor, said:

“The public control of the East Coast Mainline franchise should be a stepping stone to full and permanent public ownership.

“This East Coast franchise should be used as a public sector benchmark – and if the public sector performs better then let’s have other franchises back in public ownership too.”

The Green Party agrees, saying

The government should go further. Under cross-default clauses, the Transport secretary, Lord Adonis, could strip National Express of all its contracts, now that the group has handed back one franchise.

The Green Party remains the only major party in Britain to call for the full re-nationalisation of the railways.

Rupert Read, candidate for Norwich North and Green Party spokesperson on public services, said:

“Train privatisation, from the beginning, was a very flawed model. We can’t keep socialising private companies’ losses and privatising their profits. We need a national train network under direct public control and with full public accountability.”

“National Express must pay back whatever monies are outstanding from their rail franchise of the East Coast Main Line – it would be quite wrong for National Express to continue to profit on some lines, while the taxpayer has to foot the bill on others. To use the government’s own rhetoric, this should be a zero-tolerance issue.”

Sir Richard Branson, co-owner of the Virgin west coast franchise, has expressed an interest in bidding for the east coast franchise if it became available.

Read responded to this by saying: “Virgin would then have control of England-Scotland services, as well as London to Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Doncaster. The entire idea of privatisation was to inject competition, and this would be substituting a public monopoly for a private monopoly. That cannot be allowed to happen, and as a Green MP for Norwich North, I would be absolutely steadfast in resisting it.”

Mayor’s unfair fares

From Progressive London:

Boris Johnson’s New Year hangover for the capital- “Mayor hits Londoners in the pocket with fares rise”

Thursday, 01 January 2009 14:18

Tomorrow’s fare increase in London, which will see an above-inflation increase of six per cent overall and the price of a single bus journey on Oyster go up by eleven per cent – has provoked strong criticism from a cross party group. “At a time of financial crisis the Mayor should be helping Londoners by holding down fares and investing in key public services like transport – he is doing the opposite, hitting ordinary Londoners in the pocket,” said MP Jon Cruddas, former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone, Assembly members Len Duvall, Jenny Jones, Darren Johnson, and Val Shawcross, and Steve Hart – regional secretary of transport union Unite, in a joint statement.

They called for the fare increase to be reversed and criticised the loss of millions of pounds of income for Transport for London since Boris Johnson became mayor which could have been used to avoid the painful rise.

In their statement the cross-party group said:

“The Mayor of London plans to raise fares by six per cent, with some increasing far more: the price of a single bus journey on Oyster will go up by 11 per cent, to £1.

“Yet at the same time the Mayor has cancelled investment to improve the city’s transport system, and is throwing away millions of pounds by cancelling measures like the planned £25-a-day charge on the worst-polluting cars, like Chelsea Tractors, in central London and taking one of the richest parts of London, Kensington and Chelsea, out of the Congestion Charging Zone.

“At a time of financial crisis the Mayor should be helping Londoners by holding down fares and investing in key public services like transport: he is doing the opposite, hitting ordinary Londoners in the pocket.

“We demand that this January’s above-inflation fare increase be cancelled.”

Road pricing rejected in Manchester referendum

Again, the joys of direct democracy.

Despite attempts to bribe Mancunians into adopting an englarged version of London’s congestion charge, as the first step in making drivers pay to use roads across the country, the promise of hundreds of millions of pounds of investment could not win a majority.

A large majority of Greater Manchester’s electors voted against the regressive scheme, a pet project of New Labour which was unwisely supported by the Green Party because of the investment in public transport.

The Guardian reports:

In a referendum, the proposal was defeated by a majority of 4 to 1, meaning there is now little chance of a pay-as-you-drive scheme being introduced for at least a decade. Sir Neil McIntosh, the returning officer, said 1.03m votes were received – a response rate of 53.2%.

Of those, 79% were against.

Voters were unimpressed by the promise of £1.5bn of government money for public transport, and 10,000 extra jobs created by the construction of tram lines and improved buses and trains. Instead, the public appeared to regard it as an extra tax for motorists, which would cost individuals up to £1,200 a year.

The result is an embarrassment to the government, which created a £2bn fund dedicated to supporting local charging schemes. The fund is likely to be reallocated to other projects or become a victim of budget cuts.

The city’s yes campaign may not have been helped by the decision of Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, to abolish the western extension of the capital’s charging zone. It is expected that other cities that had been considering schemes, including Cambridge, Bristol and Leeds, will abandon their plans.

Labour politicians in Manchester had worked closely with ministers at the Department for Transport to try to convince voters. A vitriolic campaign was fought between the yes and no camps.

Had it gone ahead, the charge would have been introduced in 2013, by which time 80% of the public transport improvements would have been completed. There would also have been discounts for the low-paid and exemptions for parts of the city that had to wait longer for improvements.

Motorists would have paid to cross two charging rings during the morning and evening rush hours. The outer ring roughly followed the orbital M60, while the inner ring surrounded the city centre.

Graham Stringer, MP for Manchester Blackley, who opposed the charge, said: “I am delighted with the result. It’s a brave politician that goes forward with such a scheme, unless it is an extraordinarily good scheme that virtually everybody benefits from.”

He said the result showed there was hostility to road charging: “You have to come up with an extremely good scheme whereby you reduce other road taxes if you ever want road pricing by consent in this country.”

Stringer said it was a pity that three years had been wasted on the “ill thought out” scheme. He said officials must now go back to the government to talk about how they can invest in trams, trains and buses for Greater Manchester.

For more information, check out the Campaign for Free Public Transport website.

TUC calls for Green Industrial Revolution

Sustainable endogenous development of our economy?

An audacious hope, indeed:

TUC urges Government to follow Barak Obama’s ‘green industrial revolution’
The TUC will today (Tuesday) urge the Government to follow Barak Obama’s lead and launch a ‘green industrial revolution’, as part of a long-term strategy for a more balanced, sustainable economy.

Addressing the annual Crystal lecture at Wolverhampton University, TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber will say: ‘While short term measures are needed to minimise the impact of the economic downturn, the Government also needs a long-term strategy to ensure that the UK emerges with a more equal and sustainable economy.

‘We must restore a sense of balance to an economy that has become heavily dependent on the finance industry – and where the South East has overheated while other regions have struggled.

‘At the core of the Government’s strategy should be a green industrial revolution to make our economy more sustainable and competitive in the long term. Investing in areas such as clean coal technology and micro-generation will create jobs and give our manufacturing industry a much-needed boost. It would also help the UK to meet our ambitious target to cut CO2 emissions by 80 per cent by the middle of this century.

‘If this all this sounds like wishful thinking, consider that a key part of Barak Obama’s economic strategy is to create a green industrial revolution. He plans to invest 150 billion dollars over the next decade for renewable energy. He believes this strategy will create five million new jobs in the US.

‘So, just as the US has followed our lead in bank recapitalisation, we should follow their lead by investing in green technology.

‘Our European competitors have already shown that there are jobs and money in green technology. Germany’s renewable energy sector employs half a million people and has a turnover of 24 billion euros. In contrast, the UK employs just 7,000 in renewable energy, generating 360 million euros.

‘We have a lot of catching up to do. But manufacturing heartlands such as the Midlands could benefit enormously from a green industrial revolution.’

Meanwhile, the Greens have launched their Euro 2009 elections campaign with a call for green-collar jobs:

Green MEPs and European candidates from regions across England and Wales joined workers at the London headquarters of solar water heating manufacturer, Genersys, today, to call for ‘Green Jobs Now’.

The Green Party launched its campaign for the 2009 European elections with a series of pledges to create thousands of green-collar jobs in new green industries.

The UK has more than 40% of Europe’s wind resources and, off our shores, marine energy from waves and tides could generate up to 20% of our electricity. The Green Party claims that, like Germany, we should already have created more than 250,000 jobs in renewable energy.

However, our failure to develop this industry means we are lagging behind, with only 26,000 green energy jobs at most.

Many thousands more jobs could also be created in recycling and repairing goods and in local food production. Add an effective programme of insulation and energy efficiency and the total number of jobs would increase even further. In England alone there are more than nine million homes with unfilled cavity walls.

The plans are part of a Green New Deal that will focus European institutions on creating a millions of new green jobs, energy security and a stronger, more resilient economy.

The six key Green New Deal pledges aimed at creating green jobs are:

  • Provide free insulation for everyone, using energy company profits to cut bills and create jobs
  • End subsidies for fossil fuels and nuclear, and use the money to build world-class green energy industries
  • Train the workforce we need, with a strategic approach to providing new training places for the green industries of the future.
  • End soft touch regulation on polluting power stations and give the renewables industry the break it needs
  • Regulate big banking to stabilise the financial system, and close the loopholes that allow tax havens to operate.
  • Transform rules on procurement to help schools and hospitals buy from local producers.

The Green Party aims to double its number of MEPs in next June’s European Elections. These are held under proportional representation rules, which means that every vote counts and can help elect new Green MEPs. Voting takes place across ten regions in England and Wales (and one each in Scotland and Northern Ireland) and there are currently two Green MEPs – for the South East and London.

Caroline Lucas, Green Party Leader and MEP for the South East, said:

“Green MEPs are some of the most effective in the European Parliament and our pledges today show how serious we are about increasing our numbers and getting even more done after the European elections next June.

“Europe faces not just an economic crisis, but an accelerating climate crisis too. We need secure jobs and we need new green industries. Greens will help build up both with their Green New Deal for Europe – a major, Europe-wide investment in good green jobs, combined with the re-regulation of big finance.

“We can make Britain the green jobs capital of Europe with these plans, making the transition away from fossil fuels, creating thriving new industries and helping pull ourselves out of economic crisis at the same time.”

Jean Lambert, Green MEP for London, has recently published a key report on the skills gap for green industries in Europe, and on the wider issues surrounding green work. She said:

“Getting a Green New Deal right in Europe will depend on addressing the green skills gap. An ambitious European-level green skills and jobs programme has never been more urgent and will only be achieved with public investment and planning.

“We will not be able to deliver on climate change targets unless we have an appropriately skilled workforce. The greenest job of all will be making it happen, and that’s what Green MEPs are pledging they will do today.”

Tory Story: stop me if you’ve heard this one

Turns out some of these short-sellers that have been speculating against banks are donors to the Tories. As well as those hedge fund types

As Bradford & Bingley, the last of the independent former building societies, is shared between Santander and the state, the Tories have been attacking New Labour – whose economic policies (light-touch regulation, privatisation of public services) they have supported.

[On that B&B bail-out, the BBC’s economic correspondent Robert Peston notes that “For taxpayers to lose a penny Bradford and Bingley’s future losses would have to be unthinkably huge.” That doesn’t mean that it’s a good move, mind…]

Why it’s conference season, and the Tories are in Birmigham – and they’re not complacent, honest.

Aside from promises to stand Tory candidates in the six counties (AKA Northern Ireland), carry on state harrassment and demonisation of Muslims, and cut council services, we have an overture to Blue Labour ministers:

Senior Blairites could be offered jobs under a David Cameron government in the ‘national interest’ […] in a bid to poach some of Labour’s brightest talents and split the party.

Michael Gove, the shadow children’s secretary, singled out Schools Minister Lord Adonis, but also warmly praised current cabinet ministers James Purnell and the ‘outstanding’ Hazel Blears.

As for the Tories economic proposals, Green leader Caroline Lucas says we need more people power, not quangoes:

“We are in the middle of a financial crisis caused by a lack of democratic control of the economy, and the Tory response is to marginalise democracy even further. It’s what they call ‘disaster capitalism’ – seizing on an emergency as an excuse to drive through a hard-right ideological agenda.

“The Tories want to outsource oversight of government fiances to a quango they call the Office of Budget Responsibility. But we already have an Office of Budget Responsibility. It’s called Parliament.

“We don’t need another quango, filled with the same corporate bosses that got us into this mess, with a few Tory donors and ultra-right think-tank wonks for good measure. We need real democratic control of the economy, with power returned from multinationals to parliament and, most importantly, to ordinary people.

“The Tories want to outsource the handling of failed banks, too. When a bank has to be nationalised, it should be dealt with for the benefit of ordinary savers and borrowers, but George Osbourne wants banks handed over to the Bank of England for another dose of the insular City thinking that caused the problem in the first place.

“Under a Green New Deal, banks that failed would be restructured into more, smaller companies, so that any problems they have in the future can be contained without putting the whole economy at risk. High-street banking would be separated from high finance to improve the security of people’s savings and mortgages. We would restore some of our lost building societies, which added much-needed stability to the market. We would get finance, and the economy as a whole, working for people rather than distant corporations.

“The Tories want to cut public investment just at the time we need it most. Their attitude is ‘you’re on your own’. A Green New Deal means government doing its job: investing in keeping our economy healthy and building a sustainable economy for the future.

“By borrowing from the people through local bonds, government can create a secure investment for savers. That would allow us to revamp our public transport, energy supplies and housing, generating jobs, revitalising money flows, loosening ties to unreliable oil markets and cutting carbon emissions.”