I've talked a lot in earlier blogs about how the oligopoly of academic journal publishers are triple-funded by the British tax payer - in getting tax-funded journal content for free, in getting tax-funded peer reviewers to work for free, and in selling the content back to tax-funded university libraries - in the very institutions that provided the content free of charge in the first place. And of course there are far better ways of quality-controlling, disseminating and archiving new knowledge that don't involve paywalls, huge profits and shareholder dividends.
There are of course parallels in this with the 'privatised' UK rail system (actually, funded by government subsidies to the tune of £2billion, down from £4billion). It's interesting to see this played out in microcosm where I live.
Here's what I'd like rail users in my small town to know when they use one of the few trains that run here:
Your ticket today to Lancaster
Cost you around £8 (or around £15 if you are going the other way, to Leeds).
An equivalent journey in the Netherlands (using the chipcard) would cost you
2.80 euros (£2).
Why Compare with the Netherlands?
Because the train is operated by Northern Rail, which is half-owned by Abellio whose parent company is Dutch Railways. Abellio is Dutch Railways’ international arm.
Dutch railways is state-owned. (As is the case of railways in France, Germany, Italy and elsewhere).
Dutch railways made a surprisingly low net profit of 43 million euros[i] in 2013 on its services in the Netherlands. The UK Government meanwhile subsidises the 'private' system by billions of pounds, including £356 million to Northern Rail in 2013.
Northern Rail's Income and Profit:
Income for 2013:
From tickets: £230 million [ii]
From UK government grants: £356 million
From other sources : £56 million
Northern Rail net profit for the year: £30 million[iii]
Northern Rail's gravy train:
· Northern Rail Directors’ 2013 total income £863,000 (well over twice that in 2012)
· The highest earning Director was paid £240,000
· Total of dividends paid to Northern Rail shareholders in 2013: £29.3 million
Of course Dutch taxpayers and rail users are benefiting nicely from the British system too. Which is good to know. Sadly, the lucky Dutch don't benefit from publishers' profits in quite the same way - not even from their own Elsevier, one of the oligopolistic big five.
[i] This figure is surprisingly low when compared to other countries. Italy’s state-owned railways earned around 300 million euros in the same period.
[ii] Why worry too much about serving passenger need when over half as much again comes from government subsidy?
[iii] Coincidentally, roughly the same as the whole Dutch railway system - 43 million euros.
Figures for Northern Rail are from their annual report: