The BBC has really outdone itself this time. It didn’t tell Britain the whole story about the ‘expert’ it invited on to trash Corbyn’s rail plans. And it shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it.
On its News at Five programme, the BBC interviewed Michael Holden. He was summoned to discuss Labour’s proposal to renationalise the railways. Holden was the non-executive chairman of the publicly run East Coast rail. He was the Chief Executive of Directly Operated Railways at the time, heading up the Coalition government’s business unit that ran rail franchises where private companies had failed or were not operating. Control of the East Coast franchise was later handed to Richard Branson’s Virgin Trains in 2015.
I think it worked well in public hands but I probably wouldn’t advocate doing it that way in general. We made it work, it was quite hard to do it but we ran it as a private sector company. And we returned over a billion pounds in profit to the Treasury in the time that we were running it.
But the new franchisee that replaced us has promised even more money.
And the BBC ended the segment by claiming that, if Labour plans to buy back the railways rather than waiting for existing franchises to expire, it “could cost billions”.
But on the News at Six clip, the BBC failed to mention what Holden now does for a living. Holden’s Linkedin profile does, however, detail his current position. He is the managing director of Coledale Consulting. And as the profile explains, Coledale is a:
Railway management consultancy specialising in strategic advice to railway companies.
It also lists who Coledale’s clients are:
Clients include infrastructure providers, train operating groups and companies, and client side including government. UK, Ireland, Sweden.
So Coledale’s clients include “train operating groups and companies”. The sort of companies that naturally are fiercely opposed to Labour’s plans.
And the profile lays out what experience Holden’s company can provide to such clients:
Extensive expertise in railway franchise and concession competitions, PFI bid consortia, and in large scale infrastructure programmes, and integration of trains and infrastructure including optimising use of capacity and performance trade offs.
BBC doubles down
Since Labour’s manifesto was leaked, the BBC has taken great pains to challenge the train nationalisation proposal. Despite the fact that, as Holden suggests, it could bring in billions for the Treasury. And despite the fact that it has overwhelming support from the public.
People don’t want train services in the UK to benefit private rail companies and other countries’ governments. They want these services run in their interests. But the way the BBC is behaving suggests our public service broadcaster doesn’t agree.
And that throws into doubt whose side the BBC is really on. Yet again.
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