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Robbing Peter to pay Peter

Or one bit of the state takes money from another bit of the state, shakes it up a bit and puts out a press release.

Because the Office of the Rail Regulator is deeply proud of itself for having fined Network Rail some £14m - a fair scratch, it must be said: "It is right that we should also impose a fine to mark the seriousness of this breach of Network Rail’s licence and to send a clear message to the company’s Board and senior management that it needs to address the weaknesses we have identified as a matter of urgency. Given the scale of the investment programme on the rail network, improved project planning and management will bring real benefits to Network Rail’s customers in terms of improved capacity, performance and value for money".

However, Network Rail is "a “not for dividend” company and all...profits go straight back into improving the railway".

It is by no means clear from the ORR website or its annual report what it does with the fines it pockets. My guess would be that it pockets them, thus giving a self-financing and doubtless self-perpetuating quango. If it does not, and passes the money straight on to the Treasury via the Consolidated Fund we have taxation via the back door. However one looks at, rail users are actually going to end up carrying the cost of this operation, and this is supposed to be good news?

Similar things happen in the water sector.

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