The last few times I’ve spoken with my dad about politics, we’ve talked about the politics of nationalisation vs privatisation. My feelings on this matter are that anything to do with infrastructure should be under the former; anything else, well, fill your boots.
So he said: Give me an example of when nationalising something made it better. And as it happens, there’s a dilly. The East Coast Main Line.
The East Coast Main Line runs from London to Edinburgh (or vice versa) through the Midlands and Yorkshire. It’s spent time in both private and public hands, but what I’d like to talk about is the last 13 years.
In 2009, the then-franchisee, National Rail, walked away from their contract. They were losing money hand over fist and decided that the cost they would pay by walking away was a better choice than to continue running the railway. No-one else wanted to buy the franchise – after all, it was losing money – and so the government nationalised the franchise.
During the time it was privately owned, the franchise owner was losing £20 million every six months. In private hands, the franchise suffered £40 million a year losses. Source
For the next five years, from 2009 to 2014, the franchise was owned by the British People. During the time it was nationalised, the East Coast Main Line returned more than £200 million a year to the public purse, and had record levels of customer satisfaction. Source
That right there is a pretty clear example of how having a nationalised railway saves you money. Even before taking into account that if it’s privatised, the shareholders want a profit which by definition can’t go into the business paying for things like, ooh, trains, staff, heating. That sort of thing.
In 2015, despite its success as a nationalised service the East Coast Main Line was privatised again. On the eve of the general election. The Coalition couldn’t even bear the thought of the railway being in public hands during the next government, so they made sure it wouldn’t happen even if Labour won. Source
And the operator returning money to the taxpayer and with record levels of customer satisfaction wasn’t even allowed to bid for the franchise. Source
A few years ago, when I first had this conversation with my dad, all of this information was available on the Wiki page for the East Coast Main Line. At the time of writing, it’s not mentioned on the page at all.
What with Labour now officially planning to renationalise the railways, I thought it was important to get this information back online.