Is bid really good for travellers?

I WAS shocked, but not surprised, when First Group launched its bid for Anglia Railways' parent company yesterday.And you can't blame the GB Railways directors for recommending shareholders should approve the bid.

I WAS shocked, but not surprised, when First Group launched its bid for Anglia Railways' parent company yesterday.

And you can't blame the GB Railways directors for recommending shareholders should approve the bid.

After all, it could be worth £4.50 a share when just 18 months ago the shares were worth just 35p.

I can't really see the move having that much of an impact on jobs – whoever is in charge is bound to employ the same drivers, guards, and station staff.


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But what does concern me is that this move seems to make a complete mockery of the entire franchise process.

First Group were excluded from the shortlist to run train services in the region apparently because the Strategic Rail Authority felt their bid wasn't good enough.

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I had problems with that decision because First have run a thoroughly competent Great Eastern service – but having made the decision it now looks as if the SRA is finding its role marginalised.

It says it has been assured that First will run GB Railways as a separate subsidiary.

I wouldn't mind betting that if it is successful in the Greater Anglia bid, by the end of next year all the trains will be branded "First Great Anglia."

It matters not a jot what they're called – but if all trains between London and East Anglia end up as just commuter services and rural lines wither on the vine as all efforts are concentrated on the commuter services then passengers in Suffolk and Norfolk will be the losers.

Also, when the railways were privatised the big cry was that it would offer passengers more choice.

With this latest takeover, what choice do people have with public transport? First group run almost all the buses in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex except the internal services within Ipswich and Colchester and will now run all the railways – except services from Norwich to Peterborough.

Of course, many will say there is a choice – you can chose public transport or the private car.

But that argument was dismissed when the trains were privatised by people saying the issue was choice.

In East Anglia we look like ending up with a private monopoly of public transport.

If that leads to more integrated transport schemes it will be good.

But what if First Great Anglia decides First Buses are more economical on the route between Ipswich and Felixstowe?

TALKING of County Hall – I've detected a distinct change in attitude among the Conservative opposition over the last few months.

Since 2001 they've been talking about "If we win in 2005," now their tone has changed – "When we win in 2005," they keep saying.

What is more surprising is that several Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors seem to agree with them when I've been chatting with them – so long as I don't have my notebook in my hand, that is!

IT isn't going to be easy persuading the Heritage Lottery Fund to shell out enough money to restore Broomhill Pool, but I reckon they owe the people of Ipswich something.

Over the last few years millions of lottery money has gone to Norwich for the new Forum – with more to come – and to Bury St Edmunds for the new cathedral tower.

I know that is supposed to be for the whole of Suffolk, but the main beneficiary is of course Bury itself.

There is an application pending for improvements to Ipswich parks – but this seems to involved a non-stop round of feasibility studies.

It's about time the lottery authorities did something for Ipswich – or do they just see the town as a milk cow with thousands of people willing to shell out for tickets for the money to be spent elsewhere?

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