Politics: Prescott seeks private investors for Tube

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The Independent Online
JOHN Prescott will today unveil plans to allow up to three private companies to invest around pounds 7bn in modernising the Tube system. But he will tell MPs he has kept his promise to keep London Underground "publicly owned and publicly accountable".

The Deputy Prime Minister will announce that bids will be invited for one, two or three private-sector companies to take over the concession to run the stations, lines and signalling on contracts requiring the investment over 15 years.

It marks a victory for Mr Prescott over Treasury demands for a more radical sell-off for the "Tube" system. After contracts end, the infrastructure will return to London Underground.

The private bidders will be expected to carry out a complete refurbishment of tunnels, with improvements to escalators and signalling systems. They will be paid by London Underground from fare revenues to restore the capital's main arteries. London Underground will continue to run the services and the refurbishment will include new rolling stock.

At a late stage, the Treasury sought to give the new, directly elected London Mayor and the assembly more powers over the private operation of Underground lines, but Mr Prescott has ensured contracts will be sealed before the Mayor takes over in 1999, pending a yes vote in May's referendum.

However, the Mayor and the assembly will take over responsibility for the London Underground system, which may include fares policy, making the Mayor's role a "real job".