Be careful Boris Johnson, you almost sound like you're advocating the public ownership of Britain's railways. The PM's policy announcement at the weekend was focused on giving more power to Mayors in the North of England to make decisions about how local railways are operated. Boris said, 'I want communities to take control'. He said this might mean, 'transferring local branch line and rural services to community rail partnerships, owned by local people.”
This appealing-sounding announcement has seduced some people. Labour Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said, “This gives us what we need to create GM Rail and . . . an integrated London-style transport system". He added that this needed to come with 'a London level of funding'. Like many people, Andy appears to have missed that as of this year, central Government ceased to fund public transport operations in London.
The government review of Britain’s railways, led by Keith Williams, former British Airways chief executive, has already concluded that the current franchise system has “had its day” and passengers need to be prioritised. But is Boris Johnson's policy a sufficient response to the crisis facing Britain's privatised railways?
Firstly, it appears to have been sketched out on the back of an envelope. A lot of detail is missing. Some detail is due to follow when Williams produces his report in a few weeks.
Secondly, it looks suspiciously like a re-brand of the status quo. There are already regional bodies, such as Transport for the North, who have a say in local franchising. It is not clear how this new announcement will add to existing arrangements.
Finally, and most importantly, regional control does not equate to public accountability. As long as private firms continue to run railway companies for profit, it won't matter whether they are managed from Manchester or Westminster, they will not meet the needs of the people using or working on them.
Is Johnson talking about full-blown public ownership? If not then his policy deserves to be condemned.
We are at the point when even a Conservative Government report is on the verge of concluding that the franchising system - the mechanism underpinning rail privatisation - is fundamentally flawed. There has never been a more obvious time to campaign for public ownership of the railways - with democratic control by workers and passengers.
Renantionalisation of the railways is one of the Labour leadership's most popular policies. Labour needs to be shouting it from this rooftops. The likes of Burnham shouldn't let the notion of regional control distract us from the true prize.