Fight begins to save thousands of jobs at biggest employer in Milton Keynes

New government plan means Network Rail could be under threat

By Sally Murrer
Monday, 17th January 2022, 12:14 pm
Updated Monday, 17th January 2022, 12:16 pm

Up to 5,000 jobs at MK's biggest employer, Network Rail, could be under threat by a new government plan.

The plan is to to create a new organisation called Great British Railways (GBR) to run British railways. The aim is for GBR to absorb and replace Network Rail, the current track operator, in 2023.

Network Rail, based at the iconic Quadrant building in CMK, employs 5,000 local people and is currently a key national centre for engineering, infrastructure, support services and timetabling.

MK Council leader Pete Marland outside Network Rail

Its future has been plunged into jeopardy by the government plan. To make matters even more uncertain, the government announced it is holding a competition for towns and cities all over Britain to bid to be home for the HQ of the new GBR.

Areas everywhere outside London are being urged to enter the competition to spell out why they could house this new massive venture, which will bring skilled jobs, investment and economic benefits.

The move has previously been described by MK Council leader Pete Marland as a 'a kick in the teeth' to every member of staff at Network Rail in MK.

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.

Thousands of people work at the iconic Quadrant building in CMK

This week Milton Keynes is busy preparing its bid to win the competition and save local jobs,.

An MK Council spokesman said: "Milton Keynes is a strong contender at the heart of the modern network and with a raft of railway history."

"Around 5,000 people work at the Quadrant:MK, Network Rail’s £107m national centre adjacent to the central rail station. GBR will take over infrastructure management from Network Rail in 2023. EFKB and Gemini Rail Group are also based in MK."

The spokesman added: "Milton Keynes’ enviable location, large skilled labour pool, young population (46% of local people are aged under 35), available land, and deep bench of supporting knowledge industries make it an exciting prospect for large organisations looking to move and expand.

"Close to Quadrant:MK in the city centre, Santander is currently developing a £150m state of the art campus as its UK technology hub, expected to be home to 5,000 employees when it opens in 2022. Santander has also invested in MK:U, the first bricks and mortar university for Milton Keynes due to open in 2023."

Council Leader Cllr Pete Marland said: “Milton Keynes is an obvious contender to be the home of Britain’s railways. As well as our rich railway heritage, we have so much to offer a modern organisation – as evidenced by the sheer number of successful firms who have made their home here, and who continue to invest in their future here. We hope to welcome Great British Railway as they explore their options, to show them the talent and skills they can access in Milton Keynes as well as our brilliant urban and green spaces.”

Midway between London (now just 30 minutes) and Birmingham (now 47 minutes) on the line developed by Robert Stephenson, Wolverton was named as the country’s ‘first railway town’ when The Wolverton Works were established in 1838. Royal Saloons have been built at the works for 150 years which remains the home of The Royal Train used by the British Royal Family when travelling."

The varsity line previously running through Bletchley connected brilliant minds from Oxford and Cambridge during the war effort and was a key reason Bletchley Park became the base for the incredible codebreaking work that shortened World War II by two years. Now, Bletchley is to trace that line again with East West Rail, who moved its HQ to Milton Keynes in 2019

Great British Railways 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 competition plan was revealed by press release last Autumn. MK Council leader Pete said at the time: “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.”

He added: “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.”

A spokesman for Network Rail said at the time: “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.”