Tory MPs attack BR sell-off plans on eve of Bill

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The Independent Online
A CONSERVATIVE dominated committee of MPs will embarrass Tory ministers tomorrow by issuing a critical report on rail privatisation, just two days before a Bill on the subject is likely to be published.

The report, prepared by the Commons Transport Committee - which has a majority of Tory MPs - says that the plans are unlikely to attract interest from the private sector, will not increase BR's efficiency and could result in the collapse of railway equipment supply because it will take 10 years for the private sector to be able to afford to buy new rolling stock.

It focuses on the plan to split British Rail into Railtrack, which will be responsible for the infrastructure, and a series of operators who will be offered franchises on lines or groups of lines and will have to pay the track authority for use of the track. The report warns that this structure contains 'no apparent incentive (for Railtrack) to act efficiently'.

It doubts whether 'the private sector is able or willing to generate the considerable sums required' to upgrade the railway.

A member of the committee said: 'Some of the Conservatives are torn between loyalty and the overwhelming evidence they have been presented with.'

The committee is preparing a full report, likely to be published in April, but was so concerned over criticism of the Government's plans that it prepared an interim report in advance of the Bill, expected on Friday.

Yesterday, the Government showed it was ploughing on with its plans by appointing two advisers on privatisation who will take over quangos created by privatisation. John Swift QC, an expert on competition law, will be the Rail Regulator, in charge of access rights on the railway, and Roger Salmon, a merchant banker who is a former director of N M Rothschild and Sons, will head the Franchise Authority. The Government had deliberately rejected all applications from people from within the railway industry.

Brian Wilson, Labour Transport spokesman, said: 'It is typical that the Tories have chosen a banker and a lawyer to run our railways. If privatisation comes to pass, these City gents will preside over burgeoning bureaucracies while thousands of railway workers are already being got rid of in advance of a sell-off.'