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Wednesday, 28 February, 2001, 13:48 GMT
Tories deny U-turn over Tube sale
Tube train
The future of the Tube is currently uncertain
The Conservatives have shifted their policy over the future of London's Underground and say privatisation is no longer their priority.

Instead backing is being given to Bob Kiley, the capital's Transport Commissioner, who has condemned the government's public-private partnership (PPP) proposal for the Tube as "fatally flawed".

The crisis of London Underground is the jewel in the crown of Labour's transport failures

Bernard Jenkin
The Tories are pledging a Tube "recovery plan" including better management, long term planning and access to funds for network improvements - but would also demand a 'no-strike' agreement from staff as a precondition.

Although the party has previously fully supported privatisation shadow transport minister Bernard Jenkin told BBC News Online: "This is not a U-turn."

"We are not ruling out privatisation for the Tube at some stage in the future but the priority and the agenda at the moment is Mr Kiley."

Ministers 'pig-headed'

The Tories are emphasising Mr Kiley's experience - he helped turn round New York's subway system - and say they want to ensure he stays in London and delivers a better Tube service.

Whether that was in the public or private sector was "neither here nor there", Mr Jenkin insisted.

He added: "The government's pig-headed stubbornness has left the Tube without a penny of private investment over the last four years."

Bob Kiley
Bob Kiley: Damning verdict on Labour's plans
According to The Guardian newspaper, advisers to party leader William Hague believe "events have moved on" since the privatisation policy was drawn up by John Redwood, then shadow environment secretary, in 1999.

Mr Redwood's plan was to give passengers and workers shares in the Underground with the aim of saving government an estimated 750m a year in subsidies.

London Mayor Ken Livingstone hired Mr Kiley to overhaul the tube network, but he says his plans have been blocked by Chancellor Gordon Brown.

Mr Kiley wants to retain unified management control of the Underground in public hands if Labour's planned part-privatisation goes ahead, leaving private companies to deal with day-to-day operations of the lines.

But this week he said the chancellor has blocked any agreement which does not give the private firms ultimate control over their operations.

Policy details

Giving details of the Tory re-think, Mr Jenkin said: "We accept that the present state of the London Underground means that the prospect of privatisation is beyond the time horizon of our forthcoming election manifesto.

"The immediate priority is a recovery plan - better management, long term planning and access to funds for renewal of trains and infrastructure - to rescue the Tube from collapse."

He said Mr Kiley's commitment to London presented the Tube with "a new opportunity".

"We are prepared to set aside previous policy positions in order to maximise this opportunity."

The next Conservative government would work to reach an agreement with Transport for London for the ongoing financing of the Tube.

No-strike agreement

A stable financial proposal would be aimed at allowing managers to plan for maintenance and investment free from day-to-day political interference.

But, as a precondition, the Tories would seek a 'no- strike' agreement with Underground staff and the unions.

The Liberal Democrats said the Conservative move meant they had joined Mr Kiley, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, the unions and the public in seeing the flaws in part-privatisation - leaving ministers isolated.

"Surely it is time for the Chancellor to abandon his discredited part-privatisation. PPP for the Tube is now clearly a minority interest," said transport spokesman Tom Brake.

"Where there is a monopoly in public transport, it is vital that passenger safety is put before profit."

  • The risk of further strikes by Underground staff has grown after the Rail Maritime and Transport Union announced plans to ballot its 7,500 members on whether to launch a wave of strikes in mid-March.

    The action is part of a continuing row over job security, safety and staffing levels under the proposed PPP.

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    See also:

    26 Feb 01 | UK Politics
    Ministers to discuss Tube crisis
    06 Dec 00 | UK Politics
    GLA rejects Tube sell-off
    09 Oct 00 | UK Politics
    American appointed to run Tube
    18 Aug 00 | UK Politics
    Tube sell-off safety threat
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