Transport Secretary defies calls for publicly owned East Coast Main Line

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FAILING to sell the East Coast Trains service would be akin to handing control to the RMT, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has told the Conservative Party conference.

He told activists the Labour policy of allowing the state to enter franchise contests showed “Ed Miliband obeys his paymasters” and outlined the vision for an improved East Coast service with a new private operator.

The franchise was taken into state hands in 2009 after the previous franchise, run by National Express, collapsed. The Government is letting a new contract run the line but Labour has said it operates well in the state sector.

Mr McLoughlin said: “Only Ed Miliband could look at the success of our railways today and say, ‘you know what, all this growth, trains busier than any time since the 1920s, more punctual, safer ... forget it ... let’s go back to some version of state command’.

“Take East Coast trains. Our plan: a new private operator from next year running more trains to Leeds, faster services to Edinburgh, new routes, new trains, growth.

“His plan: letting the RMT call the shots and leaving that route stuck in state hands. Ed Miliband obeys his paymasters. He doesn’t listen to passengers.”

Broadening his theme, Mr McLoughlin said it was wrong for trade unions to be able to call strikes with a low turnout in ballots.

He told activists in Birmingham he had addressed the Tory conference 30 years ago as a working miner to make the case for bringing unions within the law.

And he said: “When union leaders call strikes with low turnouts and old mandates, they make life harder for millions of people. Even if only a handful of union members actually voted to strike. It’s unfair and unjustifiable. So shouldn’t we expect a proper threshold before a strike is possible?”