Heads they win, tails we lose

26 December 2017

Virgin Care, having lost a contract, sued the health authority and were awarded hundreds of thousands of pounds and, to rub salt into the wounds, awarded a major contract in Lancashire. When Virgin Stagecoach lost the West Coast gravy train they used the same tactics; we have never quite understood how they then retained it? The warning, of course, is that if, in future, we are in a TTIP or CETA type trade deal these are the tactics big companies use to challenge governments to the detriment of the needs of the people and communities concerned. That resonates very loudly to me with all the Brexit talk about sovereignty.

The government is considering re-opening lines closed by Beeching which, naturally, we would, in normal circumstances, welcome. But this re-announcement was really made to mask the failure of Virgin Stagecoach on the East Coast – the third time a train operating company has had to hand back the keys or go cap in hand to the government. Difficult after the success on the same line as publicly-owned Directly Operated Rail and the millions of pounds returned to the Treasury! So from 2020 it will be a private-public partnership letting Virgin Stagecoach off contractual payments of millions of pounds. Why don’t they admit it’s dogma – and the model has failed? How many more companies will be going back cap in hand on the back of this?

A lot has been made recently of drivers’ pay; shame it’s not reported that it’s been earned by productivity and flexibility over the past two decades. So while we do not do the politics of envy it’s worth noting that more than 70 people at Network Rail earn more than the Prime Minister. How many more earn more than train drivers? That neatly takes us onto directors’ pay which often contains share options and bonuses. We openly show what we earn so I would like to see all the share options and bonuses as well as the pay of managers and directors published – and then we would have a true comparison of those who, serially and for poor performance, get rewarded against those of us routinely castigated.

Homelessness has increased 65% in seven years but on Christmas Day Euston station was open to the homeless. Maybe as an industry we could and should do more as the railway can be the hub of our communities. Happy New Year!

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