Labour condemns 20m pounds for advice on rail privatisation

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THE Government has paid out nearly pounds 20m to consultants for advice on privatising British Rail, Frank Dobson, Labour's transport spokesman, said, writes Nicholas Timmins.

Linklaters and Paines, the City solicitors, have alone been paid pounds 5.6m - more than the cost of the 5.7 per cent pay offer which would have settled the signal staff's strike, Mr Dobson said.

'At a time when the Government says the country can't afford to reward signalling staff for their remarkable improvements in productivity, they can find endless millions of pounds to squander on rail privatisation,' Mr Dobson said. 'It just shows . . . the only train (the Government) really cares about is the gravy train - rich contracts given to City consultants.'

Sums paid out so far include pounds 3.3m for accounting services; pounds 2m on merchant banking; and pounds 2.5m for advice on how private rail companies should be given access to the track and charged for it. The outcome of that work, however, 'was so unsatisfactory that the Rail Regulator has commissioned new studies'.