Network Rail is being encouraged to provide genuine public accountability to the railways by mutualising the organisation along the lines of the co-operative foundation trust model.
Labour/Co-op MP Don Touhig has presented an Early Day Motion in Parliament underlining the importance of allowing the public a fair say in the running of Network Rail, while Labour peer and Chair of the Rail Freight Group Lord Berkeley says the organisation can learn a lot from hospital foundation trusts.
Mr Touhig’s motion, which is being supported by a number of other Co-op MPs including Alun Michael, David Drew, Jim Dobbin, David Taylor, David Lepper, Andy Love, Linda Riordan and by leader Labour backbenchers such as John McDonnell and Glenda Jackson, urges the company to reform its constitution to allow the travelling public to become members of Network Rail. This will allow members to play a full role in its governance structure and hold the management accountable, according to the motion.
Government should also withhold any subsidies for Network Rail, according to Mr Touhig, until the organisation achieves this.
The subject of mutualising the railways has gained momentum since a study from the Co-operative Party late last year showed the public wanted a greater say over how public transport is run.
A YouGov poll commissioned by the Party showed that 81 per cent of the public felt they had too little say in how public transport is run.
In an article on page 13 in this issue Lord Berkeley, Chair of the Rail Freight Group, which represents over 150 freight train companies, echoes the sentiments for a true public railway. He says that Network Rail lacks accountability since its democratic deficit allows the organisation to effectively appoint its own members and control what they discuss.
He has also written to members of the Rail Freight Group asking for their support and for them to think about how much of an impact a real democratic process to elect members would help improve the network. He says the foundation trust model currently used for hospitals should be applied to the railway.
Peter Hunt, General Secretary of the Co-op Party and Chief Executive of the mutual think-tank Mutuo, is set to meet Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly this month to discuss various mutual options for Network Rail.
Mr Hunt told the News: “The foundation trust option is workable and there are things you can learn from it, but it would not be identical to the hospital model. You would first need to look at the membership of Network Rail and look at providing a democratic structure for its customers, staff, users and service providers — the train operating companies.
“There has been an awful lot of interest from Parliament on this subject. We are currently supporting the debate and when the times come to look at different models Mutuo will be here to assist.”
On March 9th a conference to debate this topic will be held at the STEAM museum in Swindon. Lord Berkeley and Peter Hunt will be among the speakers. Contact Tim Pearce on 079 7042 1590 or email [email protected].