Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Austrian Way

This column, by CPO co-founder Neil Clark, appears in the Morning Star.

I SPENT this Christmas in Austria, a country which, thankfully, has been wise enough not to follow the British path and privatise its entire economy.
In Austria, not only are the railways still in public ownership but prices are determined by a simple distance-based system, with the price you pay determined by the number of kilometres you travel.
At rush hour, instead of fares rising to price people off the trains, Austrian State Railways simply lays on more trains with more carriages.
Even at the busiest times, travellers always get a seat, as they do in other European countries which operate under the same model.
Compare this to what happens in Britain, where commuters, having forked out a fortune for their season tickets, face years of overcrowding, because the train companies prefer to ram people like sardines into trains rather than lease extra carriages from the rolling stock companies.
It was disclosed recently that overcrowding on Britain's trains was so bad that commuters were being allocated less space than the EU minimum for transporting farm animals.
The late "One Nation" Tory Sir Ian Gilmour, a staunch critic of privatisation, called his party's proposal to privatise the railways "crazy." He was putting it mildly.

Gatwick - a living nightmare

It used to be said that the most stressful part of flying was the flight itself. But flying is now a doddle. The real stress comes with having to deal with a privatised British airport.
On my way to Austria, I experienced the living nightmare that is Gatwick.
Herded like sheep, my family, together with thousands of other weary passengers, were told that we had to queue outside due to the lack of space inside the terminal.
And just why is there so little space inside the terminal? Because Britain's privatised airports are first and foremost shopping malls from where you can also fly, as opposed to being places to fly from with one or two shops.
The difference between the BAA-owned airports and those still in public ownership could not be more different.
While Britain's privately owned airports are widely condemned as an international disgrace, municipally owned Manchester airport is regularly voted one of the world's favourite airports by its users.
For privatisation zealots, that is, of course, unwelcome news.
Tory MP Graham Brady acknowledges that Manchester airport is a "magnificent gateway" to northern England, but still calls for its privatisation.
"Next door to my constituency, there is a thriving modern plc worth £3 billion which remains in the public sector without anyone batting an eyelid," he complains. Brady lambasts Manchester airport's "anachronistic ownership structure" as "a monument to old-fashioned municipal socialism."
As opposed of course to being a monument to old-fashioned Thatcherite dogma, like Gatwick.

Rail companies provide lousy new year tradition

IN Germany, a long-standing new year tradition is the television screening of the classic 1960s comedy sketch Dinner For One, starring Freddie Frinton as an inebriated butler.
In privatised, neoliberal Britain, we have a different and less humorous new year custom - the announcement of above-inflation price rises by Britain's profiteering train companies.
This week, fares on Britain's railways, already by far and away the most expensive in Europe, have gone up by average of 7 per cent, with some season ticket prices rising by as much as 11 per cent.
Train companies say that the increases are necessary to pay for "much-needed investment."
If you believe that one, then I'm sure that you also believe that Israel is a force for peace in the world, that Tony Blair is a man who never tells lies and that Father Christmas is a real, living person.
The truth is that the companies are raising fares to boost their already obscenely high level of profits and to pay even higher dividends to their shareholders.
In its most recent half-year figures, the Go-Ahead Group made a pre-tax profit of £58 million, while Stagecoach recorded a £105 million surplus.
Arriva made £66 million, First Group £54 million and National Express £47 million.
These profits have been at the expense of Britain's long-suffering commuters and taxpayers who pay around four times more in subsidy to the private rail operators than they did to the much-maligned British Rail.
Only when the railways are bought back into full public ownership and run once more for the benefit of the travelling public and not wealthy shareholders will Britain's great train robbery come to an end.

Great Sage of Wokingham

REMEMBER John Redwood - the wild-eyed free-market fanatic who once challenged John Major for leadership of the Conservative Party?
On his blog, the Great Sage of Wokingham reflects on why Britain's trains are so expensive.
"There is one simple reason why train fares are so high and rising so fast - the costs of train travel are too high and rising too fast," he opines. Sorry, John, but the simple reason why train fares are so high and rising fast is because our trains are operated by profiteering plcs.
Nowhere in his article does Redwood mention the fact that Britain's railways, unlike those in Europe, are in private ownership.
Writing an article on why Britain's trains are so expensive without mentioning their ownership structure is as ridiculous, and dishonest, as writing an account of World War II without mentioning Adolf Hitler.

It's time for nationalisation

THE Campaign for Public Ownership's new website will be up and running very shortly, with details of our latest campaigns and how you can get involved.
Let's make 2009 the year that nationalisation is put firmly back onto the political agenda, not as an emergency measure to bail out failing banks and building societies but as an integral part of economic policy.