"In the UK we pay one of the highest public subsidies, some of the highest fares and yet receive one of the worst services in Europe." Photograph: Getty Images.
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Rail privatisation has failed on every count - but there is an alternative

The success of the state-run East Coast Main Line proves it's time to bring the other rail franchises under public control.

Today marks 20 years since the privatisation of the railways when the Major government passed the Railways Act. You would struggle to find anybody that believes the promises made have been met. The free-market experiment with our railways has delivered a poor service, with high fares and no sign of these increases being curbed or significant improvements to the service we receive.

When National Express withdrew from running the East Coast Main Line there were concerns that the state-owned Directly Operated Railways (DOR) would not be able to deliver a good service. But not only has DOR succeeded in doing so, it has also just returned a £200m surplus to the Treasury, rather than to shareholders. It’s time we brought the other rail franchises under public control as they come up for renewal. And while train operators might legitimately argue that DfT control of rolling stock procurement, accessibility investment and Network Rail’s control of the track infrastructure, pose constraints on their service delivery, it is difficult to see how other parts of the rail industry could be responsible for the appalling failings of rail operators. These include key customer issues such as reliability, lack of real-time customer service information and dirty trains.

It’s not just DOR which has successfully run a railway. Transport for London (TfL) took control of franchising London overground services in 2007 and is now operating with some of the highest public satisfaction and punctuality levels of any railway in the country. Whilst the Mayor needs to control his inflation-busting fare rises, TfL’s running of the Overground has been a success, scoring highly with passengers content with the service delivered. In addition, this has allowed the Overground to be worked into the wider TfL network and fully integrated, making it an even more useful part of our transport network. The key factor of local management and accountability has added real value in terms of service quality; and efficiency has been improved because of TfL’s determination to focus on the value for money the public receives as opposed to maximising shareholder dividends

Privatising the railways, with the complex and fragmented ownership and management structure that has resulted, was clearly a mistake, with even David Willetts admitting as much. The decision by John Major to follow the prescriptions of the Adam Smith Institute laid the foundations for the mess we see today. At the time we were promised a system that would improve services, with Major telling parliament in February 1993: "franchises will provide a better, cheaper and more effective service for the commuter."

The simple fact is that in the UK we pay one of the highest public subsidies, some of the highest fares and yet receive one of the worst services in Europe. Since privatisation, fares have increased above inflation for a large number of routes and the ticketing system is ludicrously complicated. TfL has demonstrated that it is possible for a public provider to deliver high standards of service and a straight forward integrated ticketing system.

It’s been said before, but we must keep the pressure up. DOR must be allowed to bid for the franchises as they come up for renewal. Those who want to continue with a dogmatic free-market approach must follow their own logic. If they believe private companies are superior to the public sector, why should they worry about competing with DOR? The very fact the government are allowing foreign state-backed railways to bid for our franchises but not our own state-backed company is ludicrous. This isn’t about a 'lurch to the left', or returning to the 1970s, this is about getting the best service at a price that is affordable for passengers.

Closer to home in London, the first step should be to give control of the commuter routes serving the capital to TfL. This is something even the ardently pro-market Boris Johnson supports. Unfortunately, he hasn’t yet been able to convince his colleagues in government to hand him the reins, but this is something that government should do. They probably worry about commuters in Kent reacting against London’s Mayor having control of some of their commuter services, but the reality is that passengers in the wider south east would see improvements in their journeys to work in London.

We can carry on down the path of current railway privatisation and accept ever higher fares, high public subsidy and poor service, but we have a choice. I don’t know about you, but 20 years from now I’d rather be discussing something else rather than why 40 years of railway privatisation has failed. Politics is about the art of the possible; it is entirely possible to allow DOR to bid for rail franchises and it is entirely possible to allow TfL to run regional services that come into London. It is about time we made it happen, otherwise we’ll see more wasted years with passengers picking up the bill for failure.

Val Shawcross is transport spokeswoman for the London Assembly Labour Group 

Val Shawcross is transport spokeswoman for the London Assembly Labour Group 

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The Femicide Census honours the victims of gender violence

The survey shows that the majority of women who are killed by men suffer their fate at the hands of a current or former partner.


The phrase “isolated incident” often turns up in media reports when a man kills a woman. The police use it at press conferences. It’s a code: it means the story ends here, no one else is in danger, the rest of the world can sleep safe because this particular killer does not have his sights on anyone else.

Thanks to the Femicide Census – a collaboration between Women’s Aid and nia, two specialist services dealing with violence against women – we now know how many of those “isolated incidents” there are, in England and Wales at least. Between 1 January 2009 and 31 December 2015, it was nearly a thousand: 936 women (aged 14 and over) were killed by men in seven years.

As the census reveals, the killing of women follows a very different pattern to the killing of men, although there is one thing both groups of victims have in common: their killers are almost always men.

But female victims are more likely to know their killer than male victims. In fact, they usually know him very well: 598 (64%) of the women were killed by a current or former partner, 75 (8%) by their son, 45 (4.8%) by another male family member. Killing is often what the census describes as “the final act of control”: not an “isolated incident”, but the culmination of a long campaign of coercion and violence.

This means that trends in femicide – the killing of a woman by a man – don’t match the overall homicide trend, as a 2011 UN study found when it noted that the overall rate of homicide had fallen while killings of women remained stable. But official records have long failed to recognise this difference, and there were no statistics specifically on men’s fatal violence against women until 2012, when Karen Ingala Smith (CEO of nia) started cataloguing reports of women killed by men on her personal blog, a project she called Counting Dead Women.

That was the start of the Femicide Census, now a high-powered data project on a platform developed by Deloitte. The list has been expanded so that victim-killer relationship, method of killing, age, occupation, ethnicity, health status and nationality can all be explored.

Or rather, these factors can be explored when they’re known. What gets reported is selective, and that selection tells a great a deal about what is considered valuable in a woman, and what kind of woman is valued. As the census notes: “almost without exception, it was easier to find out whether or not the victim had been a mother than it was to find out where she worked”.

Killings of black, Asian, minority ethnicity and refugee women receive vastly less media coverage than white women – especially young, attractive white women whose deaths fulfil the stranger-danger narrative. (Not that this is a competition with any winners. When the press reports on its favoured victims, the tone is often objectifying and fetishistic.)

Women’s chances of being killed are highest among the 36-45 age group, then decline until 66+ when they jump up again. These are often framed by the perpetrators as “mercy killings”, although the sincerity of that mercy can be judged by one of the male killers quoted in the census: “‘I did not want her to become a decrepit old hag.”

Another important finding in the census is that 21 of the women killed between 2009 and 2015 were involved in pornography and/or prostitution, including two transwomen. The majority of these victims (13 women) were killed by clients, a grim indictment of the sex trade. The most chilling category of victim, though, is perhaps the group of five called “symbolic woman”, which means “cases where a man sought to kill a woman – any woman”. In the purest sense, these are women who were killed for being women, by men who chose them as the outlet for misogynist aggression.

The truth about men’s fatal violence against women has for too many years been obscured under the “isolated incident”. The Femicide Census begins to put that ignorance right: when a man kills a woman, he may act alone, but he acts as part of a culture that normalises men’s possession of women, the availability of women for sexual use, the right to use force against non-compliant or inconvenient women.

With knowledge, action becomes possible: the Femicide Census is a clarion call for specialist refuge services, for support to help women exit prostitution, for drastic reform of attitudes and understanding at every level of society. But the census is also an act of honour to the dead. Over two pages, the census prints the names of all the women to whom it is dedicated: all the women killed by men over the six years it covers. Not “isolated incidents” but women who mattered, women who are mourned, women brutally killed by men, and women in whose memory we must work to prevent future male violence, armed with everything the census tells us.


Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.