Labour could re-nationalise the railways within five years

Labour plans to renationalise the railways (Lynne Cameron/PA) Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

A Labour government could re-nationalise the entire railway system within the first five years of taking office, shadow chancellor John McDonnell has said.

As delegates were gathering in Liverpool for the party’s annual conference, Mr McDonnell said they were already looking at the detail as to how it could be achieved.

Labour’s 2017 general election manifesto pledged to bring back the private railway companies into public ownership as the current franchises expire.

However, in an interview with the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, Mr McDonnell suggested they could take advantage of break clauses in the contracts to act earlier.

Asked whether they could all be publicly owned in the first term of the Labour government, he said: “I think that’s possible. That’s why we’re working through the detail now of how that can be done.

“If you look at what’s happened over time a number of these franchises have been handed back anyway.

“I think we are in a situation now where I think that is certainly possible. We want to get to within the first term of a Labour government an integrated railway system.”

Under his plans, Labour would establish a public ownership unit within the Treasury and develop legal and financial plans to renationalise industries such as water.

“We will have new structures of government. I’ll be ready on day one going into government to be able to bring forward the legislation, to implement the policy,” he said.

The unit would also advise on compensation to shareholders and help decide which private finance initiatives (PFIs) should be taken back into public hands.

In some cases, he suggested, no compensation may be needed.

“We will abide by the legal advice that is provided to us. If the legal advice that is provided to us is we are not obliged to provide compensation to some, then we will follow that advice,” he said.

“There might be some factors in relation to some operations of PFIs in particular that could be brought forward that says actually there is no compensatory arrangements needed here.”