Socialist Worker

London Underground: now the privateers want billions from you

by Unjum Mirza
Issue No. 2053

The private companies that run London Underground are facing a major financial crisis – and they want tube workers and the public to pay the price. These firms want increased fares, even greater public subsidies, job cuts and fewer safety regulations.

The Metronet consortium is responsible for maintaining and upgrading two thirds of the London Underground network as part of the Public Private Partnership (PPP).

It is made up of five major companies who have massively benefited from the privatisation of public services – Atkins, Balfour Beatty, Bombardier, EDF Energy and Thames Water.

Metronet has run up a £1.2 billion budget deficit, mainly due to costs incurred for missing deadlines on the tubes.

To reduce this it wanted to outsource a huge chunk of the workforce over to Bombadier, one of the consortium's companies.

But the RMT rail workers' union challenged this and threatened a strike, and the consortium was forced to climb down.

Metronet is now facing financial meltdown. Senior managers are leaving the consortium like rats leaving a sinking ship. In an attempt to save itself it has announced hundreds of job cuts.

Tube Lines, the consortium that covers the Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly lines, while not faring as badly as Metronet, also faces problems.


The RMT has recently won recognition for track workers at Grantrail, which has a seven and a half year contract with Tube Lines. Recognition has meant better pay and conditions.

But Tube Lines has announced that the contract is under annual review. Experienced track workers will be made redundant in Grantrail and the cheapest sub-contractors employed.

Both consortiums have introduced consultants from Honda and Toyota, as they see the Japanese auto industry as the model of efficiency.

This is a major crisis for the PPP system on London Underground. A leaked London Underground 'stakeholder' document, which is circulating around workers, reveals that bosses are to approach the government for money to keep the PPP afloat.

It estimates that the tube will need a minimum of £45 billion to upgrade London Underground between 2010 and 2020.

Around £22 billion will be raised through the extortionate fares paid out by the public for a substandard travel system.

The additional £23 billion shortfall will come from cuts to staff and safety, and by extracting money from the public purse.

So when Gordon Brown becomes prime minister he must either meekly accept this pro-privatisation strategy and keep the PPP afloat or do the decent thing and bring London Underground back in-house.

London mayor Ken Livingstone has always said he opposed the PPP scheme. He now has a great opportunity to launch a campaign alongside the RMT union to bring the infrastructure companies back into public hands.

Unfortunately, he has remained far too silent on the erosion of safety, job cuts in booking offices and further potential job losses.

Livingstone has also embarked on the extension of privatisation on the East London Line and encouraged tube workers to scab on strikes called to defend workers' conditions, staffing and safety.

Tube workers are preparing to fight to put the public and a public transport system before the profits of the firms that infest London Underground. We hope everyone will back us.

Unjum Mirza is the RMT rail union's political officer for the London Transport region. He writes here in a personal capacity.

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Article information

Tue 29 May 2007, 18:53 BST
Issue No. 2053
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