Today’s news that Network Rail is to be reclassified as a central government body means that PSBR has just benefitted from an extra £30bn (and rising) worth of debt. It is slightly regrettable that a Network Rail spokesman said it would be ‘business as usual’, as this move should finally sink the notion that Network Rail is somehow a private body which should be left alone to operate how they see fit and allow astronomic bonuses to be issued each year.
It is reported that the Memorandum of Understanding signed today with the Government will allow the Department for Transport to be more interventionist in its approach, whilst this is to be welcomed Network Rail is widely accepted to be underperforming indeed recently the figure of £2bn worth of inefficiency was raised by the independent regulator the ORR. Many believe that a significant factor in this inefficiency is the board’s failure to be accountable to anyone but themselves.
In recent years the governance structure of Network Rail has often rightly been called in to question and many organisations and committees have published their analysis of the problem. It is the view of the Co-operative Party that Network Rail should be accountable to passengers as we are the ones who pay for it year on year and now are accountable for its debts. Network Rail had no way of paying back its growing pile of debt as it had limited ability to sell its main asset – the rails. Why they could not do this was because their asset is essentially ours the British publics.
People and in this case passengers deserve the right to have a real say over the services they are delivered. Therefore the coalition Government’s failure to increase true accountability today and allow a ‘business as usual’ approach is lamentable. The Co-operative Party’s publication ‘the Peoples Rail – a mutually run publicly accountable Network Rail’ outlines a road map to turning Network Rail in to a consumer mutual. This plan, easily carried out within current structures, would generate the ability for passengers to be represented by their own democratically and without favour from the board. This passenger mutual would become involved in the development and implementation of the organisations strategic plan, have powers to control remuneration and even appoint and dismiss the Chair and non executive directors.
It is this accountability bought about through co-operative values and principles which would start to tackle the industries inefficiency and bridge the democratic deficit between us and our railways.
Joe Fortune is the Political and Parliamentary Officer of the Co-operative Party and SERA Executive member.