Proposals to get rid of guards and most station and administrative staff, close many ticket offices, replace full time staff with part timers and reduce pay and conditions for those railway workers still in a job, are at the heart of Sir Roy McNulty’s long-awaited report on Britain’s railways, delivered on 19 May. Commissioned by the government in June 2010 to look at “value for money”, the report fails to mention the fact that private companies are siphoning huge profits from an industry that now receives nearly five times the subsidy in real terms that British Rail did.
The report acknowledges the problems created when British Rail was fragmented into literally hundreds of private companies, concedes that train operating companies take very short-term views in an industry that requires long-term planning, but then fails to draw the obvious conclusion that privatisation itself is at the heart of the railways’ problems.
McNulty gives the game away when he says, “The severe constraints on Governments’ finances will continue for some time, and there will be intense financial scrutiny as franchises come [sic] for renewal…”
He sees new technology not as a way to improve rail services, but as a way to get rid of jobs and save money. This comes at a time when passenger numbers are at the highest levels since the 1920s. Safety is also very clearly being targeted, and not only by removing staff such as guards and station staff that are seen as integral to ensuring the safety and security of train operations and passengers.
McNulty acknowledges the fact that the industry has a very high density of union membership, and says that the unions have been very effective in defending and advancing the interests of railway workers. So he knows that the government will have a real fight on if it tries to implement those parts of the report that attack the workers. ■