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Railtrack's demise - the implications for independent regulation

Tom Winsor
White & Case

Date: 8 November 2005
Time: 1:00pm - 2:30pm
Venue: CARR Seminar Room, H615

The CARR seminar room has limited seating capacity, please arrive early to avoid disappointment

Controversial as the decision to put Railtrack into administration was, perhaps the most serious adverse implication of the Railtrack affair was the Government's threat - made on the highest authority - to the independence of the Rail Regulator. This was done in order to sever Railtrack's financial lifeline provided by the independent regulator and therefore to prove to a High Court judge that the company was insolvent. Despite warnings by the Rail Regulator of the profound consequences such a step would have for other independent regulatory authorities and private investment, the Government refused to withdraw. Although the threat was never carried out, it was enough to persuade the senior management of Railtrack to give up and not resist the administration order. After the resignation of Stephen Byers as Transport Secretary in 2002, the Government tried hard to airbrush this past mistake out, and the new Secretary of State - Alistair Darling - made three statements to Parliament describing independent economic regulation in the railways as essential. But in Parliament on 24 October 2005, those assurances were discarded and the Government tabled and supported a Commons motion explicitly endorsing the threats made to the independence of the regulator. In this seminar, the Rail Regulator at the time will analyse what this sudden reversal in policy means for the constitutional position of independent regulation in all privatised industries.

Tom Winsor joined White & Case in July 2004 after five years as the UK's Rail Regulator and International Rail Regulator. As Rail Regulator, Tom was a member of the group of nine economic regulators of the UK (railways, energy, water, broadcasting, OFT, postal services, London Underground, energy (Northern Ireland) and water (Scotland)) which deals with issues of common interest and concern across the regulated sectors.