Maria Eagle – 2013 Speech to Labour Party Conference

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Below is the text of the speech made by Maria Eagle to the 2013 Labour Party conference in Brighton.

Conference,

Do you remember David Cameron’s promise on rail fares last year? Capping future increases at just one per cent above inflation.

But remember what actually happened?

The new year slog back to work.

The first commute on a cold, dark January morning.

But the nastiest shock awaiting commuters? A third year in a row of inflation-busting fare rises – some tickets up by as much as eleven per cent.

David Cameron’s broken promise on rail fares.

Because he cannot, and will not, stand up to vested interests.

Because David Cameron will always put the privileged few before working people.

But we can’t be One Nation if we price more and more people off our transport system. If people can’t afford to live near their job, then find the cost of commuting goes up faster than their wages. If young people are told to stay in education, or find an apprenticeship, but then find they can’t afford to get there.

That’s why a One Nation Labour government will tackle the cost of living crisis. Banning train companies from hiking fares beyond strict limits. No more averaging out the so-called fare cap, but an actual cap.

Not on some routes, but on every route.

Let me say this to the train companies:

You make hundreds of millions a year, in a system that pays out more in subsidies than you pay back.

So when fares go up again in January, do the right thing:

Voluntarily cap fare rises, since Ministers won’t.

Do your bit to ease the cost of living crisis.

But if you choose not to act, then a One Nation Labour government will put a proper cap on fares.

You know, Ministers did announce a cap on rail fares last week – new maximum prices for singles and returns.

And the new cap?

£250 one way. £500 return.

And, that’s not even First Class. Conference, what planet is David Cameron on?

And it isn’t just the level of fares that drives people to distraction. It’s the feeling that the system is always trying to rip you off. You buy an off peak ticket. But nowhere does it tell you when off peak actually starts. And every train company seems to use a different set of rules.

So, yes we need to cap fare rises.

But we need a new deal for passengers too.

No more talk of Super Peak fares, meaning your season ticket wouldn’t even be valid on every train.

No more stretching peak time, when it’s actually about stretching profits.

No more confusing tickets, but the exact time you can use it printed on the ticket.

No more inflexibility when you book in advance, so you can’t get the next train – even when it’s empty.

And if you do have the wrong ticket on the train, take off the price you’ve already paid from the cost of a new one.

No more single and return journeys costing the same. Not just in one pilot area after 2015, as the government plans, but across the network.

No more charging more at the ticket office than online, just to provide another excuse to close them.

No more rip offs at ticket machines, but a new legal right to be offered the cheapest fare regardless of how or where you buy a ticket.

No more inflation-busting increases in the cost of leaving your car at the station, when it’s just another way to clobber commuters.

No more ripping people off with internet charges, just because you can’t afford to travel First Class.

And isn’t it time that all trains had wifi in the 21st century? So let’s require it in franchises.

And when train companies are paid £136million by Network Rail for delays, no more pocketing tens of millions of pounds that should be passed on to passengers.

In future, it should be paid to passengers, or not be paid at all.

Isn’t it time to end the racket on our railways, and once again put passengers before profit?

And let’s tackle overcrowding on our railways that can make the journey to work such a misery. So let’s free up space for new commuter services by moving the growth in longer journeys onto a new north-south rail line. Reducing journey times. Getting more freight off our roads.

But, unlike the Tories, let’s use the project as an opportunity to create thousands of new apprenticeships for our young people.

And, unlike the Tories, no blank cheque for any government project. So, as Ed Balls rightly says: we support the idea of a new north-south rail line but, if costs continue to rise – and the value for money cannot be demonstrated, we will have to ask if this is the right priority for £50billion pounds.

So I say to David Cameron: get a grip on this project. Get a grip on its budget. And get it back on track.

And get a grip on the chaos in rail franchising too. Entirely caused by ministerial incompetence. What an appalling, unacceptable, scandalous waste of public money.

Fifty million pounds of compensation to train companies.

Millions more to lawyers and consultants.

The expense of two inquiries.

And now Ministers forced to extend rail contracts by as much as fifty months, while they sort out the mess. And how do you think the crack negotiating team of Patrick McLoughlin and Simon Burns are doing?

With just two out of twelve extensions agreed, the train companies will pay a staggering £78 million less than last year. Enough to have ended above inflation fare rises.

Ministerial incompetence adding to the cost of living crisis.

And now Ministers have come up with a new plan to waste money. A costly and unnecessary privatisation of East Coast trains. It’s on course to have returned £800million to tax-payers. And reinvests all of its profits to benefit passengers. Profits that, from 2015, will be shared with shareholders.

David Cameron: even at this late stage, abandon this costly, unnecessary, ideological, dogmatic, cynical, wrong-headed, vested-interest driven, disastrous privatisation.

But if you go ahead:

End the nonsense that means the only rail company in the world barred from bidding is the one that is running it – and doing so well. Even the French, German and Dutch state railways can bid.

How completely bizarre that Tory Ministers have no problem with a government-run rail service so long as it isn’t British.

So, instead of all this waste, let’s reduce costs in our railway. Save money by bringing a fragmented industry together. With responsibilities currently spread across the Transport Department and multiple separate bodies, brought within a reformed and more accountable Network Rail.

Save money by ending wasteful repainting and rebranding of trains and stations with every new contract. Restore a coherent InterCity identity to national train services, regardless of public or private operator.

Not just reducing waste, but making life easier for passengers too.

Conference. To tackle the cost of living crisis, we need reform of local transport too.

Bus fares, rising by nearly twice the rate of inflation. Transport authorities, powerless to act.

Unable to insist that tickets work across operators.

Unable to introduce smart ticketing, like Oyster.

Unable to cap the daily, weekly and monthly cost of travel.

Unable to require bus companies to let young people travel free.

And unable to take control of local rail services, to create a genuinely integrated network.

All things taken for granted in London.

But David Cameron’s government is making it harder for councils to deliver change.

His franchising fiasco has put the brakes on local control over rail. His decision to rig bus funding now penalises authorities that pursue reform.

I pay tribute to Labour councils and councillors that are determined to fight for a better deal for passengers. Like David Wood, the chair of Tyne and Wear Integrated Transport Authority, now – with his colleagues – pursuing the first ever Quality Bus Contracts. Leading the way and others will follow. Reversing the failure of bus deregulation. Tackling the cost of living crisis.

And a One Nation Labour government would make it easier. A simpler, faster route to reform. Devolved funding to give transport authorities greater clout.

Deregulation Exemption Zones, so government can give them the backing they need.

Let me say this to those bus companies that are opposing reform:

You already bid for contracts to run rail services.

You already bid for contracts to run buses in London. And across Europe.

And you can do so in Tyne and Wear.

And wherever councils want to secure a better deal.

Conference.

Let’s take another step to tackle the cost of living crisis, while improving our health and protecting the environment:

When nearly a quarter of all journeys are less than a mile, Let’s Get Britain Cycling.

On this issue Norman Baker and I agree.

He’s tried to get his Tory bosses to take cycling seriously. But while they’ve set out a plan to spend £28 billion on roads, he’s secured just £38million a year to support cycling.

And conveniently forgotten the three wasted years that followed his decision to axe Cycling England and its £60million a year budget.

Come off it, Norman: On ya bike.

So, here’s what we need to do:clear goals to increase cycling.

Separated routes.

Redesigned junctions.

Phased traffic lights.

Cycling Safety Assessments for all new transport schemes.

Restored targets to cut road deaths and serious injuries.

Duties to support Active Travel, as Labour introduced in Wales.

20mph zones, the default in residential areas.

Long term support for teaching safe cycling.

Space on trains.

Secure facilities at stations – required in rail contracts.

Sentencing guidelines reviewed.

Tough new rules on HGVs.

Supporting cycling. Increasing numbers. Improving safety.

Conference. Practical measures to reduce the cost of living.

Capping fare rises.

Reforming ticketing.

Integrating transport.

Supporting cycling.

New help for commuters. Removing barriers facing young people.

One Nation Labour, led by Ed Miliband:

Dealing with the cost of living crisis. Reducing the pressure on household budgets. Delivering a One Nation transport system that works for working people.