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‘People Before Profit’: Lobbying group back Ed Miliband’s calls to renationalise railways at Manchester conference

By Tui Benjamin

Ed Miliband’s calls for the renationalisation of railways at Labour’s Manchester conference last week are being backed by a national lobbying group.

According to Action for Rail, removing complex interfaces, transaction costs, increased debt servicing and private profit and dividend payments from the industry could save over £1billion a year.

With the tagline ‘People Before Profit’, the group’s mission statement claims that privatisation has led to a ‘fragmented and dysfunctional system’.

The group’s initiative to lobby MP Norman Baker, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport, is their way of ‘putting the campaign on his radar’, claimed a spokesperson for ASLEF, Britain’s trade union for train drivers and one of the founder members of the Action for Rail group.

ASLEF stated that it is longstanding union policy to support a nationalised railway system.

“The Action for Rail campaign was established to campaign against the government’s ‘McNulty-inspired’ agenda of cuts to jobs and services in the rail industry and to make the case a publicly owned and integrated alternative,” a spokesman for the group said.

“The recent West Coast franchise fiasco may prove to be a watershed moment in the story of the privatised railway and we very much hope it marks the beginning of the end of the discredited rail franchising system.”

ASLEF welcomed Ed Miliband’s that he is ‘very open minded’ about the prospect of a nationalised railway, and will not be ‘dogmatic’ about the matter.

They see this as recognition from Labour that there might be better ways of running the railway.

ASLEF said: “We look forward to concrete policy proposals from the party to this effect once the policy review is complete.”

However, this statement has not been met with universal support.

Peter Franzen, leader of the Manchester-based Community Action Party is also in favour of nationalisation of Britain’s railways, but does not believe that Miliband will honour his statement should Labour form the next government.

Mr Franzen said: “I have no confidence in what he’s saying whatsoever. Labour had thirteen years to renationalise the railways, and instead they completed the privatisation process of National Rail.

He added: “That’s just b******t. What it means is that he hasn’t got a policy. Why didn’t he call for nationalisation when he was a member of the national government?

“They broke their promises. I have no confidence in Ed Miliband, or any of the New Labour lot.”

The Community Action Party believes that complete nationalisation is the only way to develop our country’s railways in the future.

“The nationalisation of the railways is a policy that’s striking a chord with ordinary people in the area,” Mr Franzen said.

 “We need an efficient rail system that’s not reliant on infighting amongst private companies and on direction from incompetent ministers.”

“Privatisation in many cases quite simply just doesn’t work,” he said, citing China’s rail system as one example of where nationalisation has been a success.

Mr Franzen was a councillor for Wigan between 2002 and 2008 and during that period he had a place on the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Authority (now Transport for Greater Manchester).

“Labour councillors were the leading group. When I campaigned for public transport nationalisation they shouted me down,” he said.

“I wouldn’t trust Labour as far as I could throw them.”

The Community Action Party also calls for Manchester’s public transport to be free at the point of delivery.

“Public transport shouldn’t be for profit, it should be for the benefit of the people,” said Mr Franzen.

Mr Franzen argues that a free public transport system in Manchester would be a positive thing for the city.

“Having this free in the public domain would reduce traffic in the city centre,” he said. “It would be easier to get in and out of Manchester, which would help the economy.”

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