UK Politics

East Coast rail success downplayed for sell-off - RMT

A train
Image caption National Express gave up the East Coast Main Line in November 2009

A rail union claims to have obtained a leaked copy of a prospectus for the privatisation of the East Coast Main Line.

The RMT says the document shows the government is playing down the success of the line under public ownership to "bulldoze" the sale of it through.

The East Coast line was taken back into public hands in 2009 when National Express handed back the franchise.

The government said the RMT was "scaremongering".

But the RMT says the leaked prospectus showed the government was engaged in a "systematic and politically motivated devaluation of the performance" of the line, which is due to return to private hands in 2015.

'Political dynamite'

The document appears to be a draft version of the final sale brochure for potential investors, with handwritten notes and revisions in the margin.

It is intended for "investment professionals only" and not for wider circulation, the text warns.

The union claims a paragraph noting the line "three percentage points ahead of the long-distance train operator average" in the 2012 National Passenger Survey had been deleted.

A comment on the document also referred to avoiding "references to competitors", the union claimed.

"The crucial commentary that East Coast is not only ahead of Virgin and First Great Western - the other inter-city franchise holders - but that East Coast under public ownership is also amongst the highest performers in Europe for passengers per mile had been redacted," the union added.

RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: "This leaked document, coming on the day of union protests at Parliament aimed at keeping the East Coast in public ownership, is political dynamite which blows the lid off the lengths to which the government are prepared to go to bulldoze through reprivatisation before the next election.

"The fact that the public option is putting over £1bn back into the Treasury, while improving services and delivering more capacity, has been cynically airbrushed out of the final document in a disgraceful piece of political chicanery which must be called in for scrutiny to hold back this full-tilt dash for privatisation."

The union also said the document redacts sections highlighting the good punctuality and performance of the service under public ownership.

'Working well'

But a Department for Transport spokesman said: "This is ill informed scaremongering from the RMT.

"By choosing to release inaccurate information, they are misleading the public. We have no intention of requiring a 'third class' service, reducing performance levels, or in any way devaluing this vital railway.

"As the independent Brown Review concluded, franchising works for passengers and taxpayers alike. "

Labour says services can be run just as well under public ownership.

Shadow transport secretary Mary Creagh said: "East Coast is working well and will have returned £800m to the taxpayer by the end of this financial year.

"This government has learned nothing from the West Coast franchising fiasco, which saw over £50m of taxpayers' money wasted in compensation to train companies, through ministers' incompetence."

More on this story