LABOUR have been accused of “putting hard left ideology before the people of Swindon” when a debate over rail fares descended into a squabble over the merits of nationalisation.

Swindon Borough Council’s Conservative Group labelled the opposition’s proposals “nonsense” during a recent debate over historically high ticket prices.

It follows the opening of a government consultation on the future of the Great Western franchise, with the current deal due to expire in 2020.

Councillor Dale Heenan, the Conservative member for Covingham and Dorcan, formally requested that the leader of the council make a submission to the consultation in the hope of addressing the issue of high fares.

Coun Heenan said: “Today we have an opportunity to take part in a public consultation on the future of GWR.

“If we are silent, the current situation will continue. This is a golden opportunity to tackle high train fares.”

Commuters from Swindon to London saw a 3.6 per cent increase in their season ticket prices from the start of this year, amounting to over £300.

This stems from an historic distortion in prices which means Swindon’s fares are disproportionately expensive in comparison to other towns.

But Labour tabled their own amendment to the motion, which requested the council respond to the consultation by “asking the government to recognise the overwhelming public appetite for rail nationalisation and bring the GWR franchise back into public ownership”.

Labour’s Mark Dempsey (Penhill and Upper Stratton) gave a passionate speech in favour of a complete overhaul of the railways.

He said: “For most people reading the original motion, it would strike them as trying to meddle with a broken system, which is insufficient.

“Year after year after year the government has had the opportunity to cap rail prices. Anybody listening to this debate would see a party saying one thing and doing something else.

“The privatised model has derailed the system. We believe rail fares are too high and we believe we need to take real action to address this. Give the railways back to the people.”

But members on the Tory benches were distinctly unimpressed.

Councillor Tim Swinyard (Lydiard and Freshbrook) said: “I think nationalisation would be a nightmare. What we need is better privatisation, not no privatisation.”

After a combative debate, Labour’s amendment was tossed out and the original motion carried.

The council acknowledged that residents in Swindon pay the highest train fares per mile in the UK at peak times, and for tickets that are bought on the day.

Coun Heenan added: “We should be pulling together to try to solve this.”