PLANET CENTRED FORUM Bulletin Nº 12 Update 1: August 2018

Greetings again from our Planet Centred Forum network to our supporters and allies, plus also to members of kindred and linked groups.

We have noted before the dilemma that most of us face with conflicting calls on our time and energy from our various affiliations. For this reason we welcome news of other initiatives without generally expecting active responses.

However, we do caution against reaction politics. Especially getting drawn into current political issues within human affairs while taking our eye off the ball of the ongoing damage to our living planet from total human impact, whether due to population, consumption, destructive technologies, skewed values or other factors.

Doing it Locally

PCF has consistently drawn attention to the dangers of a globalisation driven by the Neoliberal agenda of endless growth (and hence profits). Cautionary voices have long been warning us: to name but one The Growth Illusion by Richard Douthwaite (1992).

As noted in Bulletin 12, intelligent localism has the potential to reclaim at least some power back from the Neoliberal hegemony. Part of the antidote can be confident thriving local communities and economies able to ‘short circuit’ long distance politics and trade. In the book of that name Richard Douthwaite (1996) outlined some of the economic strategies that might assist, while Localisation: A Global Manifesto by Colin Hines (2000) is also in our resource library.

Yet the challenges to ‘doing it locally’ are only too real. One is the individualist ethos of modern society making it difficult to establish strong community bonds. Equally serious is the money trap: our ‘need’ to maximise our incomes now skews both our social and ‘green’ choices. Only growing trust in strong local support networks will give us confidence to get beyond our bottom line anxieties.

Despite this, local initiatives are happening and we have reported on some of them in these bulletins. Many readers will know of others. The list includes housing co-operatives, co-housing schemes, community land trusts, worker co-ops, garden and allotment sharing, growing and food distribution co-operatives, LETS schemes, local currencies, time banks, credit unions, bread funds (pooled by and for self-employed workers), partial income sharing, maker spaces, transition town initiatives, local issue campaigns, shadowing elected councillors, citizen’s councils…

Read on here.








Alan Clawley – a life well-lived: his less well-known contributions

Alan was trained as an architect and lived in Birmingham for several decades, providing technical support to a wide variety of community projects. He was a member of the Green Party, founder and secretary of Friends of Central Library and chairman of West Midlands Economics Group (WMNEG).

The writer first met him at meetings of Birmingham Green Party in the 80s and later both attended the 1994 gathering organised by George Heron (left), a supporter of the New Economics Foundation (NEF) George circulated all the NEF supporters living in the West Midlands and an inaugural meeting was held in which the constitution of an unincorporated voluntary association was adopted.

Since the structure of the NEF did not allow for branches as such, it was agreed that WMNEG would be independent of the NEF but share its values and interests. A management committee planned the programme of activities and George was its chairman until he moved to Manchester in 1997. Paul Baptie took the chair for a short period followed by Alan Clawley. A website was created and contact with supporters was maintained by email.

Trawling through her documents the writer found several records of work not mentioned in the widely appreciated tributes by Steve Beauchampé and Neil Elkes. A summary follows.

Read on here.






A DRAFT MANIFESTO for the West Midlands New Economics Group: Alan Clawley 24 June 2000

  1. Everyone agrees that Transnational Corporations (TNCs) are so big that they can avoid any responsibility to local communities.
  2. Like any other business, TNCs are driven by profit for shareholders above all else.
  3. WMNEG does not condemn profit in itself but wants TNCs and all businesses to be accountable not only to shareholders but to employees, consumers and local communities.
  4. Citizens have so far ensured accountability through democracy but TNCs and business are on the whole not democratic.
  5. TNCs can and do by-pass local democratic institutions if they do not like what they do. National governments believe that they are powerless to control TNCs lest they put their economies at a disadvantage in the global market.
  6. If they want to control TNCs and make them accountable to communities all the nation states will have to get together and agree what is to be done.
  7. There is no supra-national machinery at present that can do this job. Those that do exist, such as the World Trade Organisation and the European Union are all the side of the TNCs and in favour of removing even more barriers to their freedom.
  8. The United Nations could do it if it were given the resources and the mandate to do the job. It could become an integral part of its role to prevent conflict between the nations of the world.
  9. In the meantime those of us including WMNEG who criticise the operation of TNCs in the global market can only protest and mount negative campaigns.
  10. The alternative strategy is to support local communities in taking unilateral action to protect themselves from the impact of TNCs and other irresponsible businesses.
  11. The antidotes to globalism for communities to adopt are:

(a) increased seIf-sufficiency,

(b) resistance to TNCs and

inward investors so as to extract “responsible behaviour” agreements from them,

(c) diversification and break-up of over-dominant industries.

  1. These tactics could be supported by local authorities and trades unions in particular.
  1. The role of WMNEG could be to

(a) promote locally self-sufficient economies that rely less on inward investment and TNCs,

(b) promote diverse economies that do not rely on a single large industry,

(c) campaign for a new supra­national democratic body to agree the rules by which TNCs will be accountable to local communities and,

(d) argue for the democratic control of business by all its stakeholders.









Alan Clawley believed that maintenance and improvement of the built environment is the starting point for urban regeneration and localisation. In 2002 WMNEG was awarded a grant by the West Midlands Social Economy Partnership to do an action research study. Study visits were made and a report was published in 2004 for distribution to policy-makers, practitioners and academics.

The study, “Sustainable Housing in Small Heath” (2004), is the illustrated story of the year-long study into the application of renewable energy in an inner-city neighbourhood. In section seven of his report on Small Heath he set out his thoughts on this.

The large scale urban renewal schemes of the 80s was seen by government as the only an alternative to massive clearance, redevelopment with municipal housing and building huge new council estates on the edge of the city or further afield in new or expanded towns. The Conservative government with Michael Heseltine, its leading minister, was enthusiastic about it at the time.

The New Labour government has moved even further down this path. Few council houses have been built and within a few years there may be no council owned housing at all. The job of managing and building social housing has been passed to the voluntary housing movement.

Whoever is responsible for “social housing” in Small Heath it is inconceivable that they will try to return to the days of mass clearance and redevelopment. They will have enough on their plate dealing with the legacy of the former council housing built since the war without worrying about poor owner-occupiers. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that some form of public intervention will be needed in the next decade to ensure the future of its people and their houses.


We have the technology for sustainable housing now. For the last twenty years the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales has been trying out new ideas for ecological housing. Their website describes the technologies which are available now, publications, consultancies and training courses. The basic tools in the sustainability tool box include photo-voltaic roof tiles, solar heaters, super-insulation, rainwater collection, and reed beds. There are many more yet to come.

Fitting all 8,500 houses in Small Heath with a solar water heater would be a start. A more detailed technical and financial feasibility study needs to be done to get an idea of the total costs involved over many years and suggest means by which it could be financed. There are now many ecological consultants and green architectural practices capable of doing this.

There are no solar panels in areas like Small Heath: the application of this technology to Small Heath is the next step. If a big impact is to be made then it is in areas such as Small Heath that progress must be made. This will not happen on its own, nor can it be left to the manufacturers of green building products to sell them to the residents of Small Heath. Government must take the first step to make sustainable housing affordable and available to people on the lowest incomes. This will certainly require a new Act of Parliament, along the lines of the Housing Act 1974. A private members bill will not be adequate.

The practical approach would be like that used by Urban Renewal in the 80s as described earlier. This will mean organising work at the individual, street and neighbourhood levels:

  • A local project team should be set up for Small Heath with staff skilled in sustainable housing.
  • An open competition for providing the service could be held for which suitable agencies, such as housing associations, surveyors, architects, community development trusts, voluntary organisations, and even departments of the City Council are invited to bid.
  • Small factories and workshops should be set up at the start to make, install and maintain the components needed.
  • Local people would be employed and trained to run the businesses and do the work.

No time limit should be put on the programme. The process of converting old houses into sustainable houses should be seen as a continuous process of renewal that needs long term support, not bursts of funding.



Colin Hines, convenor of the Green New Deal Group, has advocated such ‘retrofitting’ measures nation-wide.  In the Guardian last week he adds: 

“A climate-friendly infrastructure programme would make the UK’s 30m buildings super-energy efficient, dramatically reduce energy bills, fuel poverty and greenhouse gas emissions.  Building affordable, highly insulated new homes, predominantly on brown field sites, would involve a large number of apprenticeships and professional jobs, as well as opportunities for the self-employed and local small businesses. This can be paid for by “people’s quantitative easing”, from fairer taxes, local authority bonds and green ISAs”.



Alan Clawley – a life well lived


Steve Beauchampé pays tribute to the community activist and Birmingham Press columnist who passed away earlier this week.

Alan Clawley, who has died from cancer aged 74, was the kind of tireless campaigner that every community needs more of. The causes that he became best known for – saving Birmingham’s modernist central library from demolition and championing the work of its architect John Madin – may not have been the most popular, but Alan fought for both tenaciously, assiduously and with a relentless determination that was both an example, and an inspiration, to others. That he was supported in his efforts by such informed and respected voices as those of English Heritage (now Historic England) and the Victorian and 20th Century societies, and by knowledgeable local architectural experts Joe Holyoak and Andy Foster, speaks volumes for the strength of his arguments.

Fearlessly taking on both councillors and senior council officials over the library, exposing their cant, their ill-informed interventions, the deep flaws in their arguments, Alan presented a coherent, convincing case for the defence. He scoured official documents, challenging a decision-making process that had clearly reached its conclusions before it had examined the evidence, shining a very bright light on its shortcomings in a way that no elected councillor came close to. And he did so incessantly, initially via the online pages of Adrian Goldberg’s Stirrer website and, following its closure, via its successor, the Birmingham Press.

What his Council opponents wanted at Paradise Circus were 60-storey towers, what they are now getting is a bland, urban office scape as forgettable as Madin’s imposing inverted ziggurat was memorable. Alan saw this coming; he read the planning applications, poured over the Paradise Circus development plans and strategy documents…and when it came to the new Library of Birmingham, Alan repeatedly warned of the project’s true cost and un-affordability, of how the city would end up with a central library reduced in size and offering a diminished service to that of its predecessor.

Whilst many councillors and high-ranking city officials derided John Madin’s work, readily approving or supporting the demolition of many of his key buildings, and colluding in trashing his reputation, Alan spoke out for surely the most important and influential of twentieth century Birmingham architects. This admiration resulted in a biography of Madin, published in 2011 (part of the RIBA’s 20th Century Architects series) and the first serious overview of Madin’s work. Alan wrote and researched two further books, Batsford’s Birmingham Then and Now (2013) and Library Story: A History of Birmingham Central Library (2016) and helped form the Brutiful Birmingham Action Group, its goal to increase appreciation of this much derided brutalist style of modernist architecture.

Yet there was more to Alan Clawley than the Birmingham Central Library and John Madin. Moving to the city in the early 1970s after training at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London, where he had graduated in 1969, he became involved in the Small Heath Park Housing Co-operative and was an active member of the Green Party, standing (as did his wife Hazel) in many elections (both he and Hazel were on the ballot paper for yesterday’s council elections), and he was a friend of Moseley Road Baths amongst many other community campaign groups. Indeed, so much of what Alan Clawley did was undertaken without the thought or expectation of financial gain, but because it was worthwhile and needed to be done. Surely a significant measure of a life well-lived.

Steve Beauchampé

May 3rd 2018

First published in the Birmingham Press

There was also a tribute in the Birmingham Mail


Alan was chairman of the West Midlands New Economics group and some of his more low-profile activities will be recorded here in due course.





Proportional representation: Nancy Platts

Nancy Platts, a Brighton Labour Party councillor, who has worked for London Fire Brigade, Daycare Trust and Consumer Focus, points out that under the proposed new boundaries, the problem of ‘electoral bias’ means the Conservatives will only need a lead of 1.6% per cent to win a majority (less than they won by in 2017) – while Labour will need a lead of more than 8%.

One of the main reasons for this is a total lack of proportionality: under first-past-the-post, seats do not match votes – it is where those votes are cast that really matters. Huge Labour majorities do not equal more representation: instead, millions of votes are thrown on the electoral scrapheap. ‘Losing big and winning small’ is rewarded.

Westminster’s voting system splits the left vote, but projections by the Electoral Reform Society show Labour would now be Westminster’s largest party under the preferential STV system (used for local elections in Scotland).

A new report on the benefits of the case for fair votes makes clear that the experience of councils in Scotland as well as governments across Europe shows that proportional voting systems – where every vote counts – help to foster ‘consensual’ politics, where unions and civil society are included as key players.

Democracies with more consensual structures are more progressive, with larger welfare states and lower rates of prison incarceration and lower economic equality.

EU countries which have proportional representation have embedded trade union rights, high union density and extensive collective bargaining coverage use proportional electoral systems.

Nancy ends “There is increasing momentum for change both in unions and the Labour Party. It’s time to replace Westminster’s broken set-up and extend the progressive voting systems we see in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland into Westminster.

When every vote counts – with seats matching how people really vote – parties don’t just pander to wealthier swing seats and a handful of influential voters. They have to win support across the board”.





Universal basic income would enhance freedom and cut poverty

In the Financial Times, Dr Guy Standing, SOAS University of London, replies to Ian Goldin, who gave five reasons for dismissing basic income.

In his recent book, summarising 30 years of research, all five are considered. He explains:

First, he says universal basic income (BI) is unaffordable. Many advocates do not use “universal”. What they mean is that all legal residents (and legal migrants after a qualifying period) should qualify. Most believe the BI should be clawed back from the rich in tax. This is administratively easier, more equitable and efficient than targeting by means-testing. The latter has high exclusion and inclusion errors, low take-up and poverty traps, inducing bureaucrats to use intrusive behaviour tests. Mr Goldin claims that a BI is “unaffordable and leads to ballooning deficits”, adding it would be paid by “reallocation of resources from other areas such as health and education”. You cannot have it both ways. Anyhow, BI could be paid by cutting regressive subsidies, including the 1,156 tax reliefs that cost the exchequer £400bn a year.

“Second, he claims it would “lead to higher inequality and poverty”, adding “it typically aims to replace existing unemployment and other benefits”. The latter is untrue. What most advocates want is replacement of means tests, with supplements to BI for those with extra costs of living or lower expected earnings. As for the claim, all pilots/schemes have shown reduced poverty and inequality. In Alaska, when the Permanent Fund was established from which BI was to be made, the poverty rate and Gini were the highest in all US states. Twenty years later, they were the lowest. In India, pilots in nine villages resulted in reduced poverty/inequality, by comparison with beforehand and with other villages. One cannot presume a BI would raise poverty or inequality.

“Third, Mr Goldin claims a BI would “undermine social cohesion” by “rewarding people for staying at home”. All polls show that more than 90 per cent would continue to work if they had a BI. Unlike means-tested benefits, a BI would overcome the poverty trap, whereby many face marginal tax rates of 80 per cent in taking low-wage jobs.

“Mr Goldin’s fourth point is similar to the third, claiming a BI undermines incentives to participate”.

“His fifth point is that BI “offers a panacea to corporations and political leaders, postponing a discussion about the future of jobs”. Why? Most of us want to improve our lives. A BI as anchor of a new distribution system is justifiable for six reasons. It is a matter of social justice, would enhance freedom, produce basic security, cut poverty, promote political stability at a time of rising discontent, and, as India’s government recognised in a parliamentary report, even in a low-income country, a BI is affordable”.





Slating Basic Income: a starting point for a WM New Economics discussion?


Ian Goldin, Professor of Globalisation and Development at the University of Oxford, a former World Bank vice president, gives five reasons in his FT article why UBI is ‘a red herring’.


First, UBI is financially irresponsible. Universal means everyone gets it. Even in the richest societies, if UBI was set at a level to provide a modest but decent standard of living it would be unaffordable and lead to ballooning deficits. To close the UBI budget black hole, much higher taxes or reallocation of resources from other areas such as health and education would be needed.

Second, UBI will lead to higher inequality and poverty. It typically aims to replace existing unemployment and other benefits with a simple universal grant. As the OECD has shown, by reallocating welfare payments from targeted transfers (such as unemployment, disability or housing benefits) to a generalised transfer to everyone, the amount that goes to the most deserving is lower. Billionaires get a little more.

Third, UBI will undermine social cohesion. Individuals gain not only income, but meaning, status, skills, networks and friendships through work. Delinking income and work, while rewarding people for staying at home, causes social decay. Crime, drugs, dysfunctional families and other socially destructive outcomes are more likely in places with high unemployment, as is evident in the drug pandemic in the US.

Fourth, UBI undermines incentives to participate. Stronger safety nets are vital. No decent society should tolerate dire poverty or starvation. But for those who are able, help should be designed to get individuals and families to participate; to help people overcome unemployment and find work, retrain, move cities. Wherever possible, safety nets should be a lifeline towards meaningful work and participation in society, not a guarantee of a lifetime of dependence.

Fifth, UBI offers a panacea to corporate and political leaders, postponing an urgent discussion about the future of jobs.

The demographic pressures in rich countries, and the deep challenge artificial intelligence poses to development prospects in poor ones, adds to the need for this conversation.

There must be more part-time work, shorter weeks, and rewards for home work, creative industries and social and individual care.

Forget about UBI; to reverse rising inequality and social dislocation we need to radically change the way we think about income and work





The arguments made during the first referendum in 1975 on Do you think that the United Kingdom should stay in the European Community (the Common Market)?” were, as I remember, largely economic, tied in with a vision of where the UK’s future place in the world ought to be.

Would it do better linked to the old Empire, most of which was now becoming independent, or as part of an expanding Common Market, free of internal tariff barriers, in non-communist western Europe?

It’s true there was some discussion about sovereignty. Formidable speakers like Enoch Powell and Tony Benn abhorred any tampering with the sovereignty of the Westminster parliament, as had Hugh Gaitskell before him, but such constitutional questions seemed to many people rather academic. It is therefore interesting to turn to the recent second referendum and there to the factors found to have influenced people’s votes (see the data provided by the Rowntree Foundation and Lord Ashcroft’s polls in the weblinks below).

Here the issue of sovereignty was cited as the main reason for opposition to the EU by those who voted leave, and economic prospects as third in importance. However the second most significant reason cited in the 2016 referendum on Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” was a new one: the better control of immigration.

Admittedly in 1975 immigration in general was a controversial issue – the “rivers of blood” speech by Enoch Powell 1968 had stirred passions – but the immigrants objected to then were not from Europe; furthermore, the free movement of persons in the EU, and the entry to the UK of a large number of them, particularly from Eastern Europe, had yet to come.

Between 1975 and 2006 the powers of European institutions expanded. After all, for markets to operate smoothly and effectively rules need to be applied by governmental bodies capable of enforcing them. For there to be a level playing field it was understandable that there should be freedom of movement of goods and services, with common standards, for example of weights, measures and hygiene.

Furthermore the players in the market – business people, workers and investors – from all countries needed to have the same opportunities everywhere. Hence the four freedoms of the single market (of goods, services, people and capital), mentioned in the 1957 Treaty of Rome, were set up in stages by the treaties of Maastricht 1993, Amsterdam 1999 and Lisbon 2009.

The European institutions responsible for regulations included the Commission (EU secretariat), the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, and the directives so produced have become part of the law of the UK. Alleged infringements of the rules are brought to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg whose judgements are mandatory on any member.

(As an aside, it’s important to distinguish between the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights based in Strasbourg. The latter is the court of the Council of Europe – founded in 1949 and consisting of 47 member states of which the EU 28 states are only a part – and concerned with the upholding of Human Rights, in particular the Convention on Human Rights. The Court’s decisions are not mandatory though have considerable authority; for example, when it decided that the UK was wrong in not giving prisoners the vote, the UK government refused an immediate change but has since come to a compromise.)

The UK now is in the formal process of leaving the EU. It began in May 2015 when the UK parliament voted by 544 to 53 to hold a referendum; this was held in 2016 with the question: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” Though the margin of victory in the referendum was slight – 52 to 48% to the nearest point – the overwhelming majority in the parliamentary vote to hold the referendum and the long campaign leading up to it gave added weight to the final referendum vote and has made many MPs feel under an obligation to support a Brexit deal even if it is not what they personally would have chosen.

In October 2016 Theresa May said she would trigger Article 50 of the 2009 Lisbon Treaty in March 2017; however, Gina Miller’s court case forced May to put the issue through Parliament and, in early 2017, MPs voted to trigger Article 50, with the consequence at 11pm on 29th March 2019 the UK is to be out of the EU.

At the time of writing both sides are proposing that there will be a transition period from March 29th 2019 to the end of December 31st 2020 after which all the changes will apply.

Furthermore, by the end of 2017 substantial progress was made in negotiations about the respective rights of EU and UK citizens, the financial compensation to the EU owed by the UK and the mutual desire not to have border posts between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

But what has still to be decided is the nature of the future relationship between the two bodies. The deadline for doing so and agreeing the transition has been set by David Davis and Michel Barnier as Oct 2018.

One option is for the UK to remain part of the Single Market. This would preserve London as a global financial centre but would entail accepting the four freedoms and the jurisdiction of the European Court.

Another is to retain membership of the Customs Union alone. That would mean no tariff barriers and so no need for border posts, for example in Ireland, but UK would not be allowed to make trade deals with other countries outside the EU.

The two remaining possibilities already on the table are,

 first, for the UK not to leave at all,

or, second, to come out with no deal and move to the World Trade Organisation rules which would mean being subject to all the EU tariffs and doing any deals on an ad hoc basis.

What the UK government seems to be hoping for is a “bespoke” customs deal that does not prevent the UK making other trade agreements; this might mean avoiding border posts in Ireland by registering goods on which tariffs are due at the point of dispatch or by treating local trade around the border as so small that it can be disregarded.

Not unnaturally the EU is wary of this; what can start as a little local trade can expand vastly if smugglers get it.

How things will turn out eventually it is hard to be sure. The negotiators need our support – not least to conduct the negotiations in the right spirit. When passions run high it is very easy to demonise opponents.

What concerns me is that the UK should not lose some of the good things the EU has brought us, for example about the environment, conditions at work, and action against tax injustice.

One of the consequences of Brexit would be that vast quantities of EU directives would have to be brought over into UK law and adapted to fit our own institutions.

The (Great Repeal Bill) was read the first time in the House of Commons on 13 July 2017, and completed its passage through the Commons on 17 January 2018, by passing the Third Reading by 324 votes to 295. It has completed First and Second Readings in the House of Lords, and Committee Stage is scheduled to begin on 21 February 2018.

The necessary action, in a short space of time so that there is not a legal vacuum, is likely to give considerable power to government over against parliament, possibly in ways that cannot be afterwards reversed.

Even more concerning is the division the debate seems to have brought out within our own society. According to the studies of both the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and of Lord Ashcroft, the groups in general voting remain were those under 40, better educated, with good jobs, in London, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The leavers were generally poorer, unemployed or in less lucrative employment, and in areas not so much of high immigration but of a rapid increase in immigration over the last few years.

Maybe the divisions were already there but it has taken the referendum question to bring them out. The challenge now is to use the negotiations and the eventual decision and implementation as a means of fostering social and environmental justice for all, including migrants and refugees.

Though difficult, it is a moral and religious imperative.


John Nightingale, 11th February 2018





Rail privatisation

The FT’s Gill Plimmer and Jonathan Ford make the points summarised below in the latest of a series on public services.

There is a growing consensus among both executives and industry experts as well as the public that Britain’s unique attempt to create competition on Britain’s rail network has not delivered.

Two decades on, passenger numbers have more than doubled since the last year under British Rail but how much of this is due to the benefits of privatisation, rather than the shift to the suburbs, increasing urban congestion and a rising population?

Privatisation has led to more services, and encouraged more users to pay higher prices, but it has not led to the productivity improvement needed to upgrade the network and stabilise the network’s finances.

Over the same period, London’s state-owned metro network, Transport for London, has grown just as quickly and delivered more state-of-the-art investment.

“It’s very hard for people to travel around and not suffer from the cracks in the system,” says Christian Wolmar, a train historian. “It’s everything, from knowing who to buy a ticket from to the signalling failure that delays the train to the lack of information when your train is cancelled.

  • Journeys are often uncomfortable: 23% of customers commuting into London at peak hours have to stand.
  • According to the consumer group Which?, delays of at least 30 minutes afflicted more than 7m journeys last year.
  • Ticket prices have risen: they are now 25% higher in real terms than in 1995 and 30% higher than in France, Holland, Sweden and Switzerland.
  • The latest average rise in fares of 3.4 %, announced on New Year’s Day, was greeted with outrage.

Wolmar adds: “It’s hard to know which is worse — fragmentation or privatisation — but I’d probably say fragmentation.” The government broke British Rail into three: track, rolling stock and train operators, and sold it in 100 sections between 1995 and 1997.

Fragmentation has encouraged each part of the system to prioritise its own profits rather than collaborating to improve the system.

“The train you catch is owned by a bank, leased to a private company, which has a franchise from the Department for Transport to run it on this track owned by Network Rail, all regulated by another office, and all paid for by taxpayers or passengers,” says John Stittle, a professor of accounting at Essex university. “The complexity is expensive.”

  • The contribution from the state has almost doubled from £2.3bn in 1996 to £4.2bn in real terms in 2016-17,
  • The cost of running the UK’s railways is 40% higher than it is in the rest of Europe, according to a 2011 government report by Sir Roy McNulty, who has long experience in transport regulation.
  • According to the 2011 report, unit costs per passenger kilometre were roughly 20p in 2010, much the same as they were in 1996.
  • In 2009 the Competition Commission said the owners of the trains could have cost the taxpayer as much as £100m a year by overcharging operators.
  • It cost £4.1bn to provide maintenance and renewals work on the system in 2016-17, but the train operators paid only £1.5bn to access the nation’s tracks – half of what they paid at privatisation.
  • The Competition Commission concluded in 2009 that the rolling stock companies could have cost the taxpayer as much as £100m a year by overcharging operators on leasing rates.
  • The train operators have paid dividends of £654m between 2012-13 and 2015-16, compared with total operating profits of £868m.
  • The Virgin bailout, National Express failure, early withdrawal of Stagecoach and the collapse of Railtrack have damaged the case for private rail ownership.

When National Express handed back the keys to the East Coast line franchise in 2009, it was renationalised under an arm’s-length government body called Directly Operated Railways. During the following five years under state control, it increased ticket sales, returned about £1bn to the taxpayer and delivered record levels of customer satisfaction.

Railway rolling stock — which is leased to the train operators for about £1.5bn a year — is still largely owned by three companies:

  • Eversholt is owned by a Hong Kong company with a Cayman Islands subsidiary;
  • Angel mostly by Luxembourg-based investors;
  • and Porterbrook by another consortium of international investors, ‘Parent organization’, Deutsche Bank.

Some argue that track and train should be reunited and returned to public ownership. Jeremy Corbyn, the opposition Labour leader, has proposed putting the franchises back under state control as they expire and commissioning trains directly from manufacturers. An October poll by the conservative think-tank Legatum found nearly three-quarters of the UK population agreed with him.