Monday, January 02, 2006

1st Rant of The Year

2 days in to the New Year and I am already feeling the need for a little rant. No prizes for guessing the topic...

One of the election slogans bandied about by the Tories in 1997 was 'New Labour, New Strikes'. It evidently failed to win them many votes, but, surprise surprise, it has increasingly rung true.

The latest round of strikes hit the transport industry over the New Year, with both London Underground and Virgin Trains workers striking over pay. The affect in this case may not have been huge, but the principle of the whole thing still really annoys me. Incidentally, the Virgin Trains franchise in question is one of a couple controlled in a big way by our beloved government and I read somewhere that the managers who went on strike currently get paid GBP13.00 per hour - more than that earned by contempararies. Seems like some people will come up with any excuse to get New Year off.

Whilst we're on the topic of transport, I see that the Conservatives today accused Labour of not meeting most of their pledges. Again, no surprises there. There is still too much congestion and some trains are still overcrowded. Labour's response to this accusation was to declare that they had spent lots of money on the transport system in this country - I think 'double the spending of the previous government' was mentioned. I am very sceptical about these figures, and would love to know how they did their sums. But I digress. Even if they have thrown an unprecedented amount of money at the system I couldn't care less. This government wastes far too much time and effort peddling statistics and spending figures to appeal to the masses and all I want for crying out loud is a system which works.

It will also be interesting to see how this new system of choice in the NHS pans out. It has obviously not started well, with a figure today showing 80% of patients were completely unaware of the options available. But let's give it time to develop - will it be an improved use of resources or yet another gimmick to massage statistics and conceal the failings? The jury is out...


Ian said...

"the principle of the whole thing still really annoys me." Do you feel that people shouldn't be able to strike if they feel the conditions of their work are unfair? I admit, ASLEF do appear to strike a lot, and the fact that tube drivers earn more than some of our lecturers is extremely disconcerting (as the OxStu reported last year). This however, was not really an issue of pay.

The strikes were first called in opposition to outsourcing of work to subcontractors i.e. more and more privatisation, which has already been proven to have screwed up the rail system you lament, and surprise surprise, it was the Tories who privatised it ;) The RMT's members were getting screwed over and given compulsory redundancies. When big unions have clout, and part of their membership are gettting screwed over, I completely support their solidarity to highlight their friends' predicament, and I don't (as you cynically say) think it is an excuse to get NYE off...

Now I'm the first person to be criticisng New Labour, but the rail system was in SUCH mess in 1997 already, that I completely sympathise with them on that. However, they've still ballsed it up by going for more and more privatisation, which has been shown to not work. the only success story is virgin trains, which I have found to be a great service.

I'm also as dubious of the gvt's figures as you are, and also lament the fact that everything relies on targts and figures. E.g. when my granny was ill recently, we rang to make an appointment, and the girl said it could be on tuesday, but said to call back on Monday to fix a time. My dad refused and made her fix one there and then, knowing full well that this is the NHS's way of saying that they got xx% of patients an appointment the next day, and my granny needed to know to be able to plan ahead. grr.

But to return to rail transport, I'm not sure the tories would have done any better... The system DOES work, it's just too bloody expensive, and why has this happened? privatisation.

dave said...

Couldn't agree more, get the Tories in so they can nationalise the rail industry and get it working again!

Sam said...

The rail industry is being nationalised now by New Labour... by the back door. Ever wondered why all the train companies are suddenly merging and new, larger franchises are being created?

If privatisation is implemented properly (so more than one train company competes on similar routes like London to Manchester, for example) then the price and level of service would improve as they seek to outdo each other.

dave said...

If only Sam, if only..

JP said...

Both nationalisation and privatisation have advantages if the system were to live up to the ideal.

Personally I think that privatisation is the better option - it removes the need to stick to an annual budget and therefore allows better planning and investment in new stock, station improvements etc. It also opens up the possibility of competition, which if implemented sensibly usually results in more choice and better service for the paying customer.

Despite the media portrayal of things there are a great many areas where the privatisation of the railways lived up to this ideal and improved things no end. Where I used to live in Newbury, the First Great Western services are a huge improvement over what went before - the frequency is vastly better, the trains are cleaner etc. etc.

Where privatisation has failed is largely due to the constant meddling and interfering on behalf of the government - through the Rail Authority, or Department for Transport, or whatever the new buzz word for the quango happens to be.

The recent Stephen Byers case, in which he was found to have acted deliberately to compromise and bring down Railtrack is just one example of private companies having their hands tied to the extent that they cannot deliver as they should. But the effect of government meddling can be seen right across the board. Virgin Trains' West Coast Services are not able to run at the 140mph the trains were designed for, because - as was in the small pages of the news not long ago - the government have bottled out of the final investment needed to improve the signalling. I have read quite a few on-train magazines which talk about development plans being delayed by having to wait government approval. Midland Mainline's new trains sat unused for months because the government kept dithering about how and where they should be allocated. GNER gets slammed in the media for putting fares up by 8.8%, but if you go back a few months you find the headlines asking how GNER are going to afford the massive premiums for the franchise demanded by the government...

I also wonder why trains in and out of Paddington need to be fitted with much publicised advanced protection systems (thus restricting which trains can run services) and yet no-one seems to worry that other similar London terminals are without such requirements. ?

I could go on, but the bottom line is that this country needs a system in which the private sector does not have its hands tied or a nationalised system for which the government also takes *full responsibility*. By meddling with the current system it falls between too stools and fits neither the ideals of a privatised system or those of a nationalised system. I wouldn't want to return to a nationalised system (for the railways, or anything else, to be honest) - look at what nationalisation did for our car industry in the 70s. But if the government does decide to go that way I'd respect them a lot more if they were honest about their motives.

Part of the problem of course is that privatisation only really kicked in in 1997, just as the Tories went out of power. If Labour had continued to develop the scheme under the original ideals then it would have worked a lot better, but unfortunately the government never seems able to give credit where it's due and support the work of the opposition at all.

I'll end by mentioning Ian's point about the NHS. Who knows if the Tories would have done a better job? They might have done, they might not have done, I don't care. I'm not anti-Labour because they're not Tory, I'm anti-Labour because they've not managed to get a system which works. I don't want spin, I don't want to apportion blame to the other parties. I just want a system I can rely on.

dave said...

Digestible, which I like.

However I would like to mention that the car industry did actually exist in the 70s. As for Railtrack, I personally believe Stephen Byers should be in jail for say 5 years for corporate crime, the Executives of Railtrack should be in jail for 20 years for serial murder. I don't think this is a political issue though, Labour or Tory in power, the same idiots are going to be running big business.