Privatisation at any cost: East Coast Main Line sale forced through
Nothing symbolises the government's blind attachment to big business like the privatisation of the East Coast Main Line.
When the last Labour government stepped in to take over the National Express franchise in 2009, the line was losing tens of millions of pounds a year as passengers deserted the service. Customer satisfaction was low and the company was forced to default on a £1.4 billion contract with the government.
Fast forward five years and the line is now making hundreds of millions of pounds for the taxpayer. New figures show the publicly owned line will pay back a record £235 million to the government this year alone, up 12% on last year.
In total the line has made £1 billion for taxpayers since it was first re-nationalised, while passenger satisfaction with the line is up to 91%.
The nationalisation of the East Coast main line is a stunning example of how public ownership of services can vastly increase value for money for both passengers and taxpayers. This is exactly why the government are so desperate to get rid of it.
Public ownership of the railways is fantastically popular. Polls have shown around two thirds of voters back re-nationalisation.
Nationalisation also has huge cross-party support. One recent poll of marginal seats found 74% of Labour voters and 75% of Ukip voters backed their local service being bought by the state. Crucially 62% said they would be more likely to vote for a party that promised to renationalise the rails.
It is precisely for this reason that the government are so keen to get rid of the East Coast Line.
Asked about Labour's policy of allowing greater public ownership of the rails last month, transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin insisted: "It won’t work."
Asked why, he replied: "It will lead to more government borrowing and worse services for passengers."
This is the precise opposite of the truth. The nationalisation of the East Coast line has led to lower government borrowing and improved services for passengers.
The continued existence of such a successful public operation risked putting a knife in the heart of the Conservative party's belief that private is always best.
By privatising the line, taxpayers will lose hundreds of millions of pounds while passengers will receive absolutely no guarantee of an improved service.
None of this matters one bit to the government. The nationalisation of the East Coast Main Line was an aberration they simply couldn't allow to stand.