Lodge Tony Head

While the Labour Party implodes these are heady days for Conservatives.

Almost every day gives evidence of the Government’s reforming zeal. It’s all zipping along so fast its hard to keep up. Yesterday we had prison reform. Thursday we had some plans for the BBC. Wednesday news of selling off 140 surplus court buildings. Tuesday very long overdue reforms to weaken trade union leaders and strengthen trade union members. I’m not sure we had anything much on Monday…

It’s not as if the last five years were entirely wasted, despite the grumbles about the yellow albatross obstructing progress. The reforms to schools and welfare are the most often mentioned. But there were others that have been ignored or derided but will prove of lasting value – the Troubled Families programme, Police and Crime Commissioners, privatisation of the probation service…

Sure, there will be muddles and retreats. There will be computer glitches and legal challenges. Back chat from the House of Lords. The odd Commons defeat. Not all Conservatives will agree with all the reforms. The EU renegotiation sounds as though it will be a bit of a damp squib. Last week’s Budget had tax rises as well as tax cuts.

Generally though I think we can spot the direction of travel. It is away from socialism and towards freedom and responsibility.

With so much going on it is easy to miss things. Few people will have heard of Tony Lodge. However he may turn out to be one of the heroes of our time. His writing for the Centre for Policy Studies and for this site has included a powerful message that there should be competition on the railways. For years it seemed that he was being ignored. Today it looks a bit different.

A consultation from the Competition and Markets Authority into “open access” on the railways may not get the pulse racing. But it is hopeful signal compared to the damaging behaviour of the Office of Rail Regulation in blocking competition. So two Quangos go to war. Yet the decision is, of course, ultimately for the Government.

Mr Lodge says:

“We set out in 2013 to deliver an evidence based study to show that a more competitive railway could deliver lower fares, more routes, happier passengers, higher revenues and more passenger choice.  Rail’s Second Chance – putting competition back on track showed that there was and is a very strong case to deliver more open access rail competition, alongside franchises, and to end the failed policy of allowing rail franchises to effectively operate as ‘railopolies’  where they can hike fares without any fear of passengers being able to vote with their feet.  Where there is limited open access competition with franchises (on the East Coast Main Line) then fares are lower, passengers are happier, more routes are served and revenues are higher.  In short the passenger enjoys competition and choice.
“The CMA report is a victory for passengers;  its running theme that competition is long overdue and must be delivered is a wake up call for the Department for Transport and the Office of Rail and Road (ORR).”

We have a chance to deliver lower fares, more routes, better trains and happier passengers. It is also part of a wider message that the free enterprise case is not about corporatism and crony fat cat deals but allowing the market to operate properly with the benefit of competition.

Sorting out the railways is an important piece of unfinished business. At last the matter is getting some attention.

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