Just Who Is On The Right Track?

Did you view the Parliamentary TV Channel the other evening and watch the Select Committee on Rail questioning firstly the leaders of the privately-led rail development management, followed by the questioning of the trades unions' representatives? Mmmm ... It doesn't sound very appetising (does it?) and if you didn't view it then I'd not be too surprised.

But - do you know - there are valid reasons why a lot of people should have seen it. In the one hour or thereabouts that I saw, I was hugely disturbed by what must have been blatant misleading of the select committee by the development management chair and vice-chair. In contrast, the four trades unions' members (including Bob Crow!) seemed to be talking very good sense.

In one question directed at the development management pair (about whether they consulted with the trades unions), the answer was of the variety, "Oh, yes, we're in regular contact ... and when our plans are sufficiently developed, the unions will definitely be consulted ...". Right, that response sounds OK. But enter the union representatives and when asked virtually the same question it turns out that they had not been consulted on developments and, what is more, they expected the development management to present a fait accompli so that the unions would have no effective say.

Well, of course the unions would say that, I hear you saying.

But then, if you'd listened to the rest of the evidence from the unions you'd probably be shocked. It seems that the railway system has so many privatised bodies effectively working against one another that recently two of those companies were locked in legal combat with something like 100 lawyers on each side battling out their arguments. Now, who pays for that? ... Presumably it eventually comes down to the fare-payer and even the taxpayer, because (though it was supposed to have been phased out long ago) the state is still subsidising the privatised railway system.

And - a telling point - the unions very much laboured on the issue of whose interests were being served by the fare rises - the customer or the companies' shareholders? Note that the companies seem determined to introduce one-man trains at the detriment of safety, particularly for the elderly and others - to cut costs.

It sounds a bit like the local authorities who have not been paying out the £50 average cost to repair a pot-hole in the road only to pay out a typical £180 single claim because of the ensuing damage to private vehicles. And the pothole problem is getting worse - the claims are escalating.

And the quantitive easing by the Bank of England which - we learn - has only served to line the pockets of the rich as the easing has mainly profited shareholders.

The unions made the clear point that in the days of British Rail, the man at the top of the organisation could be in direct contact with a station master to implement any necessary action - whereas now the chain of command is so complex that there's a danger of Chinese Whispers creeping in. Yes, the old British Rail needed a re-vamp ... but privatisation has not helped one whisker.

But the Coalition carry on ensuring that their kind are well-heeled while competitors at the Paralympics will next year face a 2bn pounds' shortfall in their financial support.

Yes ... the ConDems do what the label says, don't they?


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