As the FT has noted:
Ministers are poised to renationalise the failed Northern rail franchise as the government pledges to invest £500m in reopening defunct lines, in the latest bid to stem the crisis in Britain’s privatised network.
Grant Shapps, transport secretary, is expected to confirm on Wednesday that Northern will be removed from the control of Arriva, part of German state-owned railway company Deutsche Bahn, and placed in the hands of the UK government’s “operator of last resort”, government figures said.
Three thoughts follow.
First, this makes a mockery of the whole of rail franchising. When the government is always available to take over a failing franchise this, effectively, makes rail franchising an upside only bet. How many times does this have to be evidenced before the charade is abandoned?
Second, playing with the size of the franchised entity by splitting it into two parts, as the government is apparently considering, will not solve its problems. It will instead just make co-ordination across the Pennines harder to achieve. Splitting also ignores the fact that the split between Network Rail and the operators is already at the heart of many of the U.K. rail system’s problems.
But perhaps most interesting is the absence, anywhere that I have seen, of the the question ‘how are you going to pay for this?’. Is that something the Tories are not asked? Is it exclusively a question for Labour? Have journalists finally realised that the answer is ‘by paying for it’? Or is it that holding this government to account is not within the new remit of journalism in the Johnson era? I do not know the answer to this. What I strongly suspect, however, is that there has not been an outbreak of understanding of modern monetary theory. So why has this happened?