Friday, 23 April 2010

Why Can't Britain Own Britain?




Lost in all the electioneering hysteria has been this gem. 'Deutsche Bahn has quietly built up a formidable position in Britain's train network'.

Did you know that Germany's rail company now owns half the company which runs the London Overground as well as the Chiltern Rail and the new Wrexham, Shropshire and Marylebone Railway?

Then we have the intentions of Deutsche Bahn to launch high speed rail services through the Channel Tunnel and the belief that it could buy London and Continental Railways when the Westminster government gets round to privatising it.

There is an important aspect to this buying of British Rail by the German government. By acquiring Arriva Trains Wales, (its most recent acquisition), Deutsche Bahn will be getting its hands on hundreds of millions of pounds a year of public subsidies.

That means British taxpayers' money will be running indirectly to the German treasury.

From my own experience the Germans and Swiss know how to run a railway. Efficient and clean they are and run on time. Strange how their railway systems don't grind to a halt with 'leaves on the line' or 'snow', but then I would expect that from countries who have encouraged the best engineers is the world to work for them. We educate many of those engineers yet we do not support their efforts. Because of our government's disgraceful attitude towards professionalism and research and devlopment, they have gone to work for other countries.

This post does take me back to the night in 1993 when Ken Clarke was seen on television fighting to a door in London to ensure the legislation was passed. I wondered then how successful privatisation would be and it didn't take long for me to find out.

What is it with Britain that we allow other countries to own what, in my lifetime, were services of which we were rightly proud? Britain has been the 'poaching' source of the world in the past couple of generations. Our politicians have so much to answer for.

We've allowed successive governments to sell off our country. There is no way back. Europe owns us now.

I won't mention who is supplying a considerable amount of the work/equipment involved with the Edinburgh trams. My gratitude to lady luck that I never had to considered living in that city once I returned to Scotland. Let me say I did live in Edinburgh a few times in the 70s and loved it. Those were the days!

35 comments:

Strathturret said...

I also had a certain regard for old Harold MacMillan. I remember one of his last speechs when he attacked Thatcher for selling off the family silver.

The Tory's privitisation program was always about the 'quick buck'.

Dean MacKinnon-Thomson said...

I agree with you Subrosa,

nationalise the rail system.

Mark Wadsworth said...

'They' have been selling off our country since 1066.

Joe Public said...

When your debt is as large as Britain's, all you can do is "sell"

subrosa said...

The privatisation of the railways was always Maggie Thatcher's baby Strathurret. Such a shame because they're little improved.

subrosa said...

Too late for that Dean. We couldn't afford it.

subrosa said...

I don't know about since 1066 Mark, but certainly in the past 40 years.

subrosa said...

There will soon be nothing left to sell Joe.

cynicalHighlander said...

"There will soon be nothing left to sell Joe."

Slavery!

Idle Pen Pusher said...

I wish.

I'd rather have my taxes back and decide for myself whether or not I want to own a share in the railways, post office, british leyland, the tote, british airways etc etc.

Sell the lot off, the government doesn't need to own much property, nor should it run many services.

If the German taxpayer is prepared to pay more for an asset than anyone else in the market is - so much the better for the seller.

13th Spitfire said...

There is nothing stopping any future government from nationalising anything - if it is the country's interest to do so. It is fully within their power, you just need a sufficiently brave PM.

I am sure Britain has not run out of those, they have just not entered politics yet.

subrosa said...

Let's not go there CH, we may be there soon enough.

subrosa said...

IPP, I doubt if the Germans bought a pig in a poke. They're quite astute business people and will have done their sums.

I agree we put money into ridiculous areas such as banks etc but I do feel we should own our utilities. Of course that will never happen now.

subrosa said...

Will they ever Spitfire? I feel, when your generation see how shallow most of today's politicians are, that the talent you speak of will choose another career path.

I would certainly like to see someone of strength and character, who cared about these islands, in power before I kick up daisies but I'm pessimistic.

tris said...

It was John Major who privatized the railways SR. It was 1993 not 1983. From Wikipedia:

"..... Railways Act 1993 introduced by John Major's Conservative government. The operations of the British Railways Board (BRB) were broken up and sold off. This process was very controversial at the time, and the Labour opposition announced its intention to re-nationalise the railways, although this has not been implemented by the subsequent Labour government. The manner in which privatisation was carried out has also received criticism for its complexity....."

The trouble was they had to keep selling off stuff to keep reducing taxes.

Idle Pen Pusher: That would be fine if the government didn't have to subsidise the trains far more than they did in the days of BR. Major made a complete mess of it. It was a giveaway to their friends, at our expense. Mitterrand, a man of vision, started building high speed trains and retained SNCF in state control. The difference is that France now has a superb network of trains connecting its rather far flung cities. The boost to the economy has been fabulous. Mitterrand was of course a man of vision. He didn’t do it to get the credit. He was dead long before the benefits were really felt. In the meantime it provided a huge amount of work and revived the train and carriage building industry. France 10 Britain 0.

subrosa said...

Many thanks for pointing out my error Tris. I gained my info from another site and it was Maggie in 1983 who started the ball rolling. It certainly was Ken Clarke who was responsible for getting the papers to the right office somewhere in darkest London. I remember the TV footage well.

Good reply to IPP too Tris.

banned said...

Its just international capitalism or globalisation SR which is a two way street in much the same way that British companies own large chunks of American industry.
A chap on Radio 2 today commented that his German owned local railway offered much more flexible ticketing arrangements which seems fair enough.

I wish the Germans would take over the bus and coach companies; they could not do a worse job than subsidy chasing, customer unfriendly Stagecoach which is, I believe, based in your fair city of Dundee?

tris said...

I'm sure Mrs Thatcher was at the back of it SR. It has her stupidity and tunnel vision stamped all over it. She never thought out practicalities. If it fitted her scheme of things it was done. Idiot woman. She was such always sure that she was right and just wouldn't listen to people. But it was in fact major that pushed it through. Nice man but terribly ineffectual (although the Currie wouldn't have said so perhaps). Of all the privatizations this was the most cack handed.

subrosa said...

Stagecoach is a Perthshire based company banned and the HO is in Perth. I agree it's not a customer friendly service, although I have to admit fortunately I never have to use it. My opinion comes from the words of friends.

subrosa said...

I actually thought Major was a true gentleman Tris, and far too much of a gentleman for the cut and thrust of politics. He has come into his own far more since he left No 10.

Idle Pen Pusher said...

tris
That would be fine if the government didn't have to subsidise the trains far more than they did in the days of BR.
They don't have to. They do. And they should stop.

Major made a complete mess of it. It was a giveaway to their friends, at our expense.
It wasn't a complete mess. It's sightly, and patchily, better than it was and somewhat better than it would be. And the bad stuff is almost entirely due to extra regulation.

Mitterrand, a man of vision, started building high speed trains and retained SNCF in state control. The difference is
Billions of confiscated private earnings.

that France now has a superb network of trains connecting its rather far flung cities. The boost to the economy has been fabulous.
Tosh. If it were so great for the economy, how come people have to be forced to pay for it under threat of imprisonment?

Mitterrand was of course a man of vision. He didn’t do it to get the credit. He was dead long before the benefits were really felt. In the meantime it provided a huge amount of work and revived the train and carriage building industry. France 10 Britain 0.
It actually created unemployment (look up "tax wedge"), it led to Britain's GDP overtaking France's all so his Ecole Superieur amis could get their cosy contracts. Have a look at French and British GDP figures in the 70s, and then have another look at how the tables turned after Mitterand and Maggie had done their jobs. Oh, look at unemployment too. Vive la Maggie.

tris said...

Idle:
"They don't have to. They do. And they should stop."

Then there would be no trains and the roads would be even more ridiculous than they are at the moment. Or people would do what they do in Iceland for example and fly everywhere. "It wasn't a complete mess. It's slightly, and patchily, better than it was and somewhat better than it would be. And the bad stuff is almost entirely due to extra regulation."

It was in my opinion (and that of many others) a complete F-up. It was abominably complex and administratively impossible. When you have big heavy things moving fast with hundreds of people in them it's best not to be regulation free.

I don't have a clue what you are talking about re French railways. They are superb in my opinion. Les TGVs I've been all over on them. They are fast and efficient and half the price of the UK ones and when one is late it makes the newspapers, even in Scotland!

Disagree totally with you about Mitterrand. Perhaps you don’t like him. I do. Clever man, in my opinion.

I keep saying, in my opinion because I am aware that I may be wrong about some things. I find it best to take that stance in discussions in writing. In my humble opinion it's rather rude to just say Tosh! to people.

Good night.

Wrinkled Weasel said...

As I live a few hundred yards from the East Coast main line, it has tickled me of late to see train livery after the manner of the Tesco Value brand. Apart from that, there must be about half a dozen oddly coloured long distance trains with the failed franchise bit tippexed out.

They look like shite.

Idle Pen Pusher said...

"Then there would be no trains and the roads would be even more ridiculous than they are at the moment."

Really? You think they'd abandon the profitable routes too? I doubt it. They'd abandon the underused ones whose passengers aren't prepared to pay the cost of running their trains themselves and only take them if some other mug picks up enough of their tab for them.

"It was in my opinion (and that of many others) a complete F-up. It was abominably complex and administratively impossible."

And what do most people cite as the main problem? Splitting track and train ownership. Who did that? Government. Pretty much all railways were built by the private sector. Did they ever split ownership? No.

"When you have big heavy things moving fast with hundreds of people in them it's best not to be regulation free."

Pre-Hatfield, punctuality and reliability were better than pre-privatisation. After the ridiculous speed limits and safety checks were mandated after, they naturally got worse. Rail is far safer than road transport. The mess that followed wasn't worth the improvement in safety. Would the government have mandated such onerous regulations if it couldn't blame their inevitable consequences on the private ownership? Perhaps, after all government is monumentally stupid. But perhaps not.

"They are fast and efficient and half the price of the UK ones"

I don't really have a problem with French taxpayers having their money confiscated from them to subsidise your rail holidays. But if I were a French taxpayer I might have different ideas.

"Disagree totally with you about Mitterrand."

You may disagree, but he did increase structural unemployment and he did buggger the French economy. France slid down the league tables under him, while Britain rose under Thatcher.

"Clever man, in my opinion."

I don't know enough about him personally. But plenty of clever people have been disastrous leaders. Gordon Brown, for example.

"I keep saying, in my opinion because I am aware that I may be wrong about some things."

I'm sorry you find my tone disagreeable. I don't mean to be offensive. But I do mean to be blunt. In who else's opinion might it be? Of course it's in your opinion. Ditto everyone else.

"In my humble opinion it's rather rude to just say Tosh! to people."

In my humble opinion it would be more constructive to explain why my reasoning was incorrect and why something that was so economically useful and fabulous required people to be threatened with prison before they'd pay for it, rather than to complain about my manner. If it really were that good, surely they'd pay freely and voluntarily?

subrosa said...

WW, for months there have been no trains on the Inverness to Perth line so I haven't had the benefit of seeing the splendour or the 'new' livery.

It sounds good enough for me to pause for a photo if I'm passing by Perth station.

scunnert said...

Gentleman John Major after leaving office joined the Carlyle Group.

http://www.eco-action.org/porkbolter/carlyle.html

subrosa said...

Then he's no different to Blair and Co scunnert. They're all at it.

Crinkly & Ragged Arsed Philosophers said...

If there's any argument that makes me want to tap heads together, preferably with a sledge hammer, it's the old chestnut of public v private management.

Other than the bad management of management,there is absolutely no fundamental reason for one to be better or worse than the other. And the cause of the primary mismanagement is down to the incompetence of politicians and bureaucrats with their hegemonies, cronyism, power play vanities, corruption and toadying to establishment values and traditions.

That said it has to be understood the values these Capitalists place on socialism and the part it play's in supporting capitalism.

Rail in the UK is archaic, inefficient, disorganised, under capitalised and overpriced.

The first three are simply down to incompetence by various governments. The dearth of capital is a malaise practised on the whole of Britain's ex industries by the banks and financial institutions. Rather than investing in orchards they want quick succulent rewards from ripe cherries. The overpricing happens because they do not regard their investment or returns should be penalised by their lack of competence. It's from this basis we apply the aphorism of socialising the costs while guaranteeing and privatising the profits.

Doesn't take an Adam Smith to work out the pitfalls in that system?

subrosa said...

I would agree with you RA and my blood pressure rises when I hear public management could earn far more in the private sector. That's nonsense. I've worked with many ex-public servants in the private sector and few had enough skills to cope with the job.

One skill they lacked was the importance of quality and time. Neither seemed to matter to them and they just couldn't comprehend why time was valuable.

German trains can be a bit archaic but they run on time, are reasonable value for money and there are plenty of them.

I'm no Adam Smith or even Eve Smith but I can work out the pitfalls.

tris said...

BNTW SR, the German government doesn't own their (or our) railways. They too were privatized, it would seem to better effect, in 1994.

subrosa said...

Tris, DB is only partly privatised and the German government have the majority holding.

I can't find my original info on it but I've found this. Germans would never allow their railway to be totally in the control of private enterprise, according to my German contacts.

http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,2704532,00.html

Joseph Takagi said...

What is it with Britain that we allow other countries to own what, in my lifetime, were services of which we were rightly proud?

We were rightly proud of British Rail?

OK, my memories go back to the 80s and early 90s, but BR was terrible then. Filthy trains that ran late and staff that couldn't care less. It's not as good as it could be now, but it's a damn sight better than it was then.

subrosa said...

Hello Joseph. My memories go back to the 50s and 60s when we were rightly proud of rail travel.

The little experience of it I had in the 80s and 90s was similar to yours. Too little investment and total neglect - set up by successive governments for privatisation.

Idle Pen Pusher said...

SR - I'm not surprised they were well run in the 50s and 60s. I hear the NHS and whole welfare state was too. The culture takes a long time to change and they were only nationalised in 1948. All those same staff won't suddenly become indifferent... it takes years, decades for the effects to filter through into a culture.

subrosa said...

I think it's to do with people's pride and expectations IPP. They go together. Once one begins to fade the other does and that leaves the subject of their pride and expectations free to do as it likes.

But you're right about culture taking years to change.

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