Mike Hill: Privatisation is not always the cure-all

An LNER train leaves the platform at London Kings Cross as the new service replaces failed rail franchise Virgin Trains East Coast.
An LNER train leaves the platform at London Kings Cross as the new service replaces failed rail franchise Virgin Trains East Coast.

It’s fantastic news that England are through to the knock-out stages of the World Cup.

Where some of the big-name teams like Argentina, Germany and Portugal have had faltering starts, our national squad have so far taken the competition in their stride and have proven to be impressive on the pitch.

I’ve been to Russia a couple of times on my travels and it’s a wonderful place to visit.

So far, away from all the politics, it’s been a welcoming and positive experience there for fans and players alike, and long may that remain so.

Speaking of travelling, last Sunday, when England were busy beating Panama 6-1, we saw the first London North East Railway train pull out of Newcastle heading for London Kings Cross.

While the famous LNER logo may bring back fond memories for train buffs, the significance of this event lies in the fact that it replaces the failed Virgin East Coast Rail franchise with a service which has been brought back into public ownership.

Many will recall that prior to Virgin being awarded the franchise in partnership with Stagecoach in 2015, trains on the route were publicly run and actually returned a profit to the Treasury.

Both Virgin and Stagecoach agreed to pay the Government £3.3billion to run trains until 2023, but the contract was ended after they failed to meet their targets.

It’s back in public hands until at least 2020. Let’s hope the Tories learn a big lesson from the whole sorry episode and agree with me that privatisation is not always the great cure all they make it out to be.

Many congratulations to Grand Central Staff, whose crew support the popular train service from Sunderland to London via Hartlepool; some of whom live in the town.

For the sixth year running, they’ve gained top marks in a national rail passenger survey covering best value, customer satisfaction and value for money for long distance train operations.

A fantastic achievement and, from personal experience, one that is very well deserved.

It is of real concern to me that local employer and Newton Aycliffe-based train manufacturer Hitachi Rail has missed out in a joint bid with Bombardier to win a £1.5billion deal with Transport for London to design and build 94 new deep tube trains for the London Underground.

The contract has been awarded to German company Siemens Mobility, who will need to build a new factory in East Yorkshire in order to build the new rolling stock.

Given we have a state of the art train building facility right here on our doorstep, with the right skills and supply chains to deliver on what will be a long-term project, it really is a slap in the face for our regional manufacturing base, our economy and the local workforce, many of whom will hail from Hartlepool.

On the subject of the workforce; solidarity with RMT members on Northern Rail, who are striking in support of keeping guards on trains.

It’s a very important health and safety issue and I wish the union well in their campaign.

Finally, as I agonised over which way to vote on the proposed third runway for Heathrow Airport, I phoned a friend; a constituent, in fact, who works at Durham Tees Valley Airport.

The workers at Durham Tees Valley (DTV) have really been through the mill over the years – sacrificing their pay, terms and conditions and now pensions just to keep the place going.

Their voice loud and clear, and straight from the control tower, was please vote in favour – our future depends on it.

As I know them intrinsically and probably better than any MP in the Tees Valley, that was good enough for me.

In principal I was against, because the imbalance of funding between the North and the South is so stark that of course it would be right to argue that the billions to be spent on Heathrow would be better spent on our transport infrastructure; that there are environmental concerns to consider; and that regional airports like Newcastle could lose 14% or more in capacity for international flights.

But for me it would be a luxury for DTV to even be in among that argument, and it is a transport hub that is desperate for growth; especially a regular slot to London.

I voted for the workforce at both ends of the spectrum – London and the North East – as well as for the good of the future of our local airport.