by Tim Lezard Unions have condemned the government’s announcement that it intends to sell its 40% stake in Eurostar, with the RMT calling it a “gross act of betrayal of the British people”. The government  hopes to raise £20bn by the sale, despite the …

Eurostarby Tim Lezard

Unions have condemned the government’s announcement that it intends to sell its 40% stake in Eurostar, with the RMT calling it a “gross act of betrayal of the British people”.

The government  hopes to raise £20bn by the sale, despite the fact last year the service made £7.4m profit.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Eurostar has thrived under public ownership, returning millions in profits each year to the Treasury. However, now it too has become a victim of the government’s ‘private works best’ market dogma.

“Privatisation has been a disaster for the UK’s railways. Train firms rely upon public subsidies to turn a profit, virtually all of which ends up in shareholders’ pockets, rather than being re-invested back into the network.

“By choosing to ignore this evidence ministers are once again putting the interests of private companies and shareholders before those of commuters and taxpayers. “

ASLEF general secretary Mick Whelan said: “Despite huge public support for taking the railways back into public ownership, George Osborne has decided to sell off the UK government’s stake in Eurostar.

“This is yet another ideologically driven privatisation of the railway. Eurostar last year returned £7.4 million profits to the treasury – income that in future will be used to line the pockets of shareholders rather than reinvested in Britain’s transport infrastructure.

“It’s ironic that as more and more train operating franchises in the UK are taken over by state backed corporations from other EU countries, the Tories remain wedded to the idea of private ownership that has failed the traveling public so badly.”

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “This is a gross act of betrayal of the British people by a right wing government hell bent on selling off the family silver regardless of the real cost.

“This compounds the issue of foreign ownership of Britain’s railways as the French state have first refusal on our slice of the highly profitable Eurostar cake. The French and Belgians think we are insane knocking off such a valuable and strategic infra structure asset.

“This sell off is just a short sighted act of industrial vandalism based on a bankrupt pro-privatisation ideology. RMT will fight this tooth and nail.

“With Eurostar a strong contender for the resale of the East Coast franchise we could easily end up within the next few years with the French state having complete control of rail services from Paris to Inverness. That would be a shameful act of betrayal on the part of the Cameron/Clegg government.”

The news comes the same day as the RMT released research showing three quarters of UK rail services are now foreign state-owned

The research shows that twenty of the UK’s twenty seven private rail contracts, the equivalent of seventy four per cent, are now owned by foreign state owned/ backed railways with the vast majority being from France, Germany and the Netherlands.

The UK’s privatised railway has the highest rail fares in Europe and in advance of Parliament returning from recess this week, MPs from the RMT’s Parliamentary group have called for an urgent parliamentary inquiry into concerns foreign state owned companies are sucking profits from the UK privatised rail industry so that passengers in foreign states are benefiting from lower fares and better services at the expense of UK passengers.

In fact, a German Transport Ministry spokesperson has openly admitted such a strategy in relation to its state operator Deutsche Bahn. “We’re skimming profit from the entire Deutsche Bahn and ensuring that it is anchored in our budget – that way we can make sure it is invested in the rail network here in Germany”.

The growing domination of UK railways by foreign states is also demonstrated by additional RMT  research which shows that Dutch state firm Abellio now operates a network in Britain over two and a half times the size of the one in Netherlands.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “The true scale of the way the railways here in Britain are being used as a cash-cow to hold down fares and improve services across the rest of Europe will shock passengers as they prepare for another week of being crammed into creaking cattle trucks while being bled dry when they pay for their ticket.

“With the planned reprivatisation of the East Coast Mainline by this rotten government we are rapidly heading towards a situation where almost the entire train operation in Britain is in the hands of overseas companies sucking out profits to benefit their own domestic transport services.

“This outrageous situation is solely down to the right-wing ideology of this government, clearly shared by the SNP in Scotland, which says you can have state operation of railways in Britain as long as it isn’t by the British state for the benefit of the British people. There must be a full parliamentary inquiry into this appalling racket and the research released today by RMT will be used to fuel our continuing fight for full public ownership of our railways.”


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Tim Lezard

Campaigning journalist, editor of @Union_NewsUK, NUJ exec member; lover of cricket, football, cycling, theatre and dodgy punk bands

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