Ruling MK councillors have attacked the government over its plan to create a new organisation to replace Network Rail to run Britain’s railways.
They say the move to form the new Great British Railways (GBR) could spell disaster for staff at Network Rail's Milton Keynes offices.
To rub salt in the wound, this week the government announced via a press release a competition for towns and cities to bid to be home for the HQ of the new Great British Railways.
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The announcement will put cities in competition with each other and can only spell uncertainty for the 3,000 people currently based in MK, working for Network Rail at its massive purpose-built Quadrant:MK offices.
Great British Railways will be a new accountable public body responsible for running Britain’s railways. It was commissioned in May 2021 following the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail, a review tasked with reforming Britain’s railways in the wake of timetable debacles and franchise failures.
The aim is for GBR to absorb and replace Network Rail, the current track operator, in 2023.
The new system will run similar to Transport for London, with GRB setting timetables and prices, selling tickets and managing rail infrastructure.
Though some of the Network rail workers could be 'absorbed' into GBR, the question, in light of the latest competition announcement, is now where they will have to move to.
The announcement has been described by local councillors as a "kick in the teeth" for all Network Rail employees currently working in MK.
MK Council leader, Labour's Pete Marland, has vowed to fight any plan to move these rail jobs away from Milton Keynes.
"MK Labour have vowed to bid for the HQ but fears that the government agenda is to “level-down” MK to boost jobs in the North," he said.
Very few details are available of what the proposals may mean, and Labour councillors calling for answers as to why the announcement was made with no details, as well as clarity on what it will mean for high-skilled jobs in Milton Keynes.
Pete added: “The Conservative Party announcement that it is looking for a new home for Great British Railways is a kick in the teeth to every member of staff that works for Network Rail in Milton Keynes. The Quadrant is already the de facto HQ of Network Rail, with thousands of skilled jobs based here in the city.”
“We have not been able to find any more detail on what these plans mean. It is a disgrace that the government are making policy by press release and then not being able to provide any more facts. It smacks of a desperate attempt to find something to say about so called “levelling-up” and moving jobs out of London.
"However, they don’t seem to understand Network Rail and the skills they are talking about are already mainly based here in MK.
People will be worried by the lack of clarity and the slip-shod way it was made public with few answers.”
“We will look at bidding for the HQ but the language being used indicates already successful places like MK need not apply. Levelling-up the rest of the UK must not mean levelling down Milton Keynes. We need urgent clarity that jobs based here in MK are safe and we will fight any plans to take them away.”
But local Conservative councillors have rubbished Labour's fears. Their leader Cllr Alex Walker said: “This is complete nonsense from a local Labour Party keen to distract residents from their failings running MK Council."
He added: "The government is clearly committed to levelling-up every part of the country and it is disgusting that Labour are resorting to desperate scaremongering to make themselves relevant.
"These are people’s jobs and livelihoods, to suggest they are going to lose that is irresponsible and does nothing to put people above politics.”
A spokesman for Network Rail said: “The government has launched a competition for cities to bid to host the new headquarters for Great British Railways – the organisation that will take over the running of Britain’s railways in a few years’ time and will absorb Network Rail.
“Network Rail’s current headquarters is in London, with its offices in Milton Keynes acting as a key national centre for engineering, infrastructure, support services and national timetabling. All of these activities will be very much needed in the future.”