Thursday, 1 March 2007

Time to change ... our politicians

Recent calls by politicians of all parties for First Great Western to be stripped of its franchise serve only to demonstrate two things: the hypocrisy of today’s political class and their complete lack of commercial understanding.

They show hypocrisy because many of the problems, especially in relation to the new timetable, are the direct consequence of political meddling. Rather than letting First Great Western get on with running the railway, the Labour government and its Department for Transport has decided to micromanage almost every aspect of the system. The result has been disastrous both for First Great Western and for its customers. The Conservatives, represented most vocally by the increasingly sanctimonious Theresa May, are little better: it was, after all, the Conservative Party that presided over the botched privatisation of British Rail. Many of the mistakes made during the privatisation process – like the short nature franchising system – still haunt the railway today and are the root causes of some of the issues faced by passengers.

They show a lack of commercial understanding because if private train operating companies could actually have their contracts terminated at the caprice of politicians it would do immense harm to the rail industry. No companies would be willing to go to the expense of bidding for a franchise that they could lose in the blink of an eye: investment would dry up and passengers would suffer.

We actually don’t need a new train operating company. What we need are new politicians: ones who actually admit to the mistakes they’ve made rather than hiding behind private companies; and ones who look for long term solutions to the problems rail faces rather than spending their times uttering meaningless headline grabbing soundbites to make them sound impressive to their constituents.

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