ES Views: Taxpayers have not lost out in Stagecoach deal

Commuters in London face some of the busiest routes: Jeremy Selwyn

Michael Harrison ["Public ownership will not solve rail fiascos", February 7] incorrectly said that taxpayers are losing £2 billion from the East Coast franchise. The route has made a significant operating profit for many years and will continue to do so. Taxpayers will not lose £2 billion, or anything like that figure.

In fact, millions of pounds each month is returned to taxpayers via this line and this will continue, no matter who runs it; there is no taxpayer subsidy required for this franchise. Since 2015 the franchise has returned almost £1 billion to the public purse.

The issue is that current operators have made a nearly £200 million loss and will soon no longer be able to afford to pay the Government the expected premiums. Quite apart from letting them off, that loss looks incredibly high when you consider that rail profits for every franchise combined were only about £270 million last year.
Chris Grayling, Transport Secretary


Michael Harrison is right that public ownership will not solve the rail fiascos. But his use of the plural neatly shows what has been going wrong since the Eighties when the Tories decided that private companies could manage public services best.

It is quite simple: private companies exist to make profits for their owners, while public companies are created to provide a service. If private firms fail to make profits doing whatever they do, they stop doing it. The collapse of Carillion shows what happens when the company happens to be providing a vital service: the Government has to step in and deal with the mess created. And some of our rail services, now in the hands of more than a dozen private companies, are hovering on the edge of collapse, with the £2 billion bailout for Stagecoach-Virgin confirming the scale of the problem.

As Mr Harrison said, deliberate underfunding for decades meant that the railways struggled, but private sector involvement hasn't solved the fundamentals, which is why British rail fairs are the highest in Europe, while the services are chaotic.
David Reed


I do not think it is right to describe the failure of the East Coast franchise as "a fiasco". It is certainly very bad news for Stagecoach shareholders who have seen hundreds of millions of pounds wiped off the value of their company in recent months but as far as the passenger is concerned there is little to worry about as the service will just carry on much as it is but under different management.

Yes, the revenue forecast for the franchise was far too high, but had this railway remained in public ownership the same or very similar revenue shortfall would have occurred and those "losses" would have had to be covered by the Treasury, ie. you and me.

So I say the more over-optimistic private sector operators the better — let's find a few more fools who want to overbid, then use their shareholders' money to support the rail industry.
Bob Muir


All firms should publish salaries

All companies — not just those with more than 250 staff — should be required to publish their salaries [Comment, February 7].

Many people in the UK are employed by smaller companies who have been exempted from legislation designed to ensure gender equality — usually because they allege it is too administratively or financially onerous for them to comply.

If you can't afford to operate fairly, you shouldn't be in business.
Diane Reay


Transparency in accident inquiries

You report Lynn Sloman's advocacy of investigations for road and public transport fatalities similar to those carried out by the Rail Accident Investigation Branch ["Croydon tram-style probes could be launched into all Tube and road deaths", February 6].

I believe this would be a very wise and helpful initiative Often attempts to learn lessons from these tragic events are hampered by lack of independence of the investigations from all the various interests involved. Openness and objectivity in these circumstances is essential but because of a wish to "cover your back" — few of us readily wish to admit our mistakes.

These tragedies generally involve very many differing organisations and numerous individuals. All can usefully contribute to, and learn from, an impartial in-depth analysis to understand what occurred and why.
Derek Turner, formerly deputy chief executive, Highways Agency


Shame of Labour over Haringey plan

I am dismayed by the way Labour councillors closed ranks yesterday and failed to stop the much-maligned Haringey Development Vehicle.

If they had any principles they would have voted to stop it in its tracks. I'm not sure how they will be able to look their residents in the eye again after this spineless effort.
Paul Dennison


We should call time on London's zoos

Your report of the animal count at London Zoo and of the fire in December that killed meerkats and an aardvark raises the question of the future of conventional zoos ["London Zoo shows off adorable animals during annual stock take a month after it was hit by a fire", February 7]. Neither of the species killed are endangered and presumably theye were there just to attract visitors.

Clearly the enclosures are not normal for most animals and the general public can see animals filmed in HD in their natural environment on television.

And London Zoo is depressing, so a radical solution would be to develop the site in Regent's Park as expensive residential units and then use the income to go towards conservation of species in their natural environments.
Steve Dunkin

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