Way back in the 60s, Doctor Beeching got out his now infamous axe and started hacking at the nation’s railways. He built, or rather destroyed, upon his two reports, The Reshaping of British Railways (1963) and The Development of the Major Railway Trunk Routes (1965) both of which were published by the British Railways Board.
It was a stick and carrot approach. The first report was a massive stick to beat 2,363 stations and 5,000 miles of railway lines out of the network representing over half of all the stations and nearly a third of all of the mileage. Suddenly the permanent way wasn’t so permanent any more.
The second was a small carrot to invest, admittedly significantly, in some routes within the remaining network. Overall, however, the main driver was to improve efficiency and to save money by cutting cost out of the system, cutting out duplication, cutting out inefficient routes and cutting out waste.
Sound familiar? Today we are going through a process to set up the Public Services Network or PSN as it is known by its friends. The aim is to create a network of networks by cutting out duplication, cutting out inefficient circuits and so cutting out waste. All of this will be used to transform public service delivery, to drive out cash for reinvestment and to improve the wellbeing of the good citizens of Great Britain.
It all sounds good. It seems to be very positive and convincing but beware. Reducing the number of networks will reduce the number of providers which will lead to a reduction in competition and this in turn, according to free-market supply and demand economics, will lead to a rise in cost. Is this inevitable? No but it is possible and everyone involved needs to mindful of the way the market could be going.
Many people protested after the railway closures carried out in Beeching’s name and a few stations and branch lines were saved. The bulk was closed as planned however and communities are still smarting from the lack of connectivity and the choked road network that is the only way of getting anywhere.
We need to be mindful of making the same mistakes again and be careful that the PSN axe is not made to cut too deeply. Less does not always lead to more and everyone needs to be aware of the law of unintended consequences.