Labour leader Ed Miliband has refused to rule out taking Britain’s railways back into public ownership, saying the party was “looking at all the options”.
He has come under pressure from former deputy prime minister Lord Prescott and more than 30 would-be Labour MPs to commit to renationalisation.
Mr Miliband has been urged to consider the success, since it was taken back into public ownership, of East Coast, which runs east coast main line services between Scotland and London.
The Labour leader said yesterday: “We are looking at all the options on the railways. We are not going to go back to old-style British Rail. Passengers are paying high fares in this country and we are paying big subsidies from the taxpayer.”
East Coast was in public hands but the government was “dogmatically” privatising it, Mr Miliband said. “I want to see value for money for the taxpayer. I am never going to write a blank cheque and I am not going back to the past, but we are looking at the different options.”
He added: “There is a balance to be struck here because there are some benefits you can have sometimes from competition and we are not gong back to the old monolithic model that was British Rail. But we do need to look at how we can have a coherent system.”
The call for renationalisation from prospective parliamentary candidates came in a letter to a Sunday newspaper yesterday.
They said: “Train companies walk away with hundreds of millions of pounds every year, despite running monopoly services and benefiting from £4 billion of public investment in the rail network every year.
“These profits are even helping keep down rail fares on the continent as many of Britain’s rail services are run by subsidiaries of the state railways of France, Germany and the Netherlands.
“Yet the not-for-private-profit model that works so well on the East Coast line has shown there is a better way to run Britain’s rail services. As well as making over £1bn of franchise payments to government, East Coast re-invests all of its further profit to benefit passengers.”
Lord Prescott said Mr Miliband should announce the renationalisation at the autumn party conference.
He said: “Ed Miliband says he wants to look at innovative ways of running our railway system. Well, 19 of these 25 railway franchises will have to be renegotiated over the next five years. So let each one lapse and pull them back into public ownership.”
Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union acting general secretary Mick Cash said: “It’s about time Labour woke up to the fact that bringing the railways into public ownership is both popular and cost-effective and would free up the money we need to invest in staffing and capacity to modernise the network.
“It remains a disgrace that the last Labour government allowed the private profiteering on our railways to continue unchecked and it’s about time the party endorsed RMT’s programme to bring the entire system under public control.”
Shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna said: “I don’t think we should be dogmatic in either direction. The question is what works.”