Nice but Tim

06 November 2014

ASLEF, the train drivers’ union, has slammed controversial comments made by First Group chief executive Tim O’Toole who has blamed poor people in Glasgow, and US inner cities, for falling revenues and stalling profits at his company. Mr O’Toole said the group was suffering – and it’s the fault of the ‘lower segment of consumers [who] do not have the disposable income.’

Mick Whelan,general secretary of ASLEF, said: ‘It is bizarre that Tim O’Toole is blaming poor people – the people at the bottom of the pile, and the fact that they don’t have enough money, in this Conservative Age of Austerity, to travel as much as he, and they, would like – for the falling profits of his firm.

‘Perhaps if his firm’s fares were not so high – fares have soared since privatisation, we now have the highest fares in Europe – people would be able to travel more frequently. It’s frankly perverse – beyond parody, really – to price passengers off buses and trains and then blame them for not travelling!

‘It also smacks of sour grapes – First Group has now lost four franchise bids – as he casts around, for someone, or anyone, to blame for his own management failings. This is a firm, we should remember, that makes a lot of money out of the taxpayer.’

First Group lost ScotRail to Abellio, the Dutch state railway operator; lost the Caledonian Sleeper to Serco; lost out to National Express on Essex Thameside; and lost out to Go Ahead and Keolis in the battle for the giant Thameslink franchise in London and the south of England. First Group has bid for the East Coast mainline, which industry analysts say it is now desperate to get.

‘East Coast should be kept in the public sector,’ said Mick. ‘Not just because it’s a better way to run a railway, but because it’s returned £1 billion to the Treasury – to the taxpayer – since it came back into public ownership. And because a public sector comparator allows everyone to see how much the privatised train companies are skimming off the top. But you would be hard put, now, after Mr O’Toole’s comments, to see First Group as a suitable company to run the EastCoast.’

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