Chalk and cheese

Yesterday something predictable happened. Then something unpredictable happened.

The unsurprising event was the arrival of a letter from the Head of Public Affairs of Network Rail, Ed Wilson. It was addressed to me as an MP, and doubtless was one of 650 sent to every named Member. It told me how wonderful the railways are, and asked me to sign an Early Day Motion. This Motion says ” That this House recognises that Britain relies on rail transport…….and calls on the Government to consider the economic benefits of rail schemes when determining value for money projects in the Comprehensive Spending Review”.

The letter also enclosed a printed press release in my name as “Local MP”, a copy of the Motion to sign and a text telling me how important the railways are. Mr Wilson also told me that over the next four years they are “committed to cutting the cost of the railway by nearly half compared to five years ago” implying that it is far from cost effective today.

This is the same Network Rail that has refused to develop the obvious property opportunity afforded by its poor quality station and extensive car park in Wokingham ,despite years of urging. They missed the good years when they could have obtained a new station at no cost to the company, thanks to the golden potential of the land they owned which could have attracted suitable planning permission. This is the Network Rail that needs billions in subsidies every year to continue to offer the tracks for use, presides over three cumbersome local level crossings which now generate large congestion owing to the long delays with the gates down, and fails to put in the extra capacity in busy areas that it needs. How come they have money to send out letters and draft press releases to MPs? Do they really think this is a substitute for having a good business case to justify their requirements for public subsidy?

Then a senior executive of a leading quango came to see me. It was one that I have found difficult to get to do anything useful in recent years. He told me they would cut the back office by 30%, amalgamate their offices, use natural wastage to cut staff and direct more of the cash to useful services we do need. He told me the country cannot carry on with public spending at 50% of GNP and that we do have to cut the deficit.

Are you listening Network Rail?


  1. Y Rhyfelwr Dewr
    July 1, 2010

    213 words — and the system won't let me post my comment!

    I thought it was a very sensible and worthwhile point. But I can't be bothered spending more time editing it than I took to write it in the first place!

    Reply: That is stupid. I am asking the site manager to get back the flexibility we used to have.

  2. no one
    July 1, 2010

    i note

    is still up. A 100% publically funded website.

    I'll believe the new govt is having some impact when this site comes down.

  3. nonny mouse
    July 1, 2010

    >>Are you listening Network Rail?

    I say privatise it.

    Oh wait…..

  4. Javelin
    July 1, 2010

    Same for the BBC – they are there to provide a function. For any of their so called "top talent" show me a role they couldn't get a person on a 25% of their salary to do?

    My brother in law looked after the digital switch over ( and Did a good job ) he told me you could halve the staff at the BBC and it would improve output.

  5. lola
    July 1, 2010

    Re the Quangoista you met. I hope it was the Financial Services Authority. No wait. You're keeping that and rebranding it as the CPA. Yeah. Right. That's going to work. Not.

  6. JohnRS
    July 1, 2010

    Interesting comments from your quango-man. Funny how he's now "talking the talk" of efficiency, reducing waste, cutting cost etc. Is he saying they might actually fo something useful for his money now? Where was he in the last decade?

    Do you really believe he will "walk the walk" or is this all show to try to keep Dem Tories off his back?

  7. Neil Craig
    July 1, 2010

    I assume the quango thinks the alternative is being cut back by 100%. I hope they are right.

    As regards Netwrok Rail – When government rather than the market is seen as the way to get money there will always be more lobbying for it. If we consider subsidy to be the Danegeld that the productive economy pays to the parasites Kipling had something sensible to say about it:

  8. Nick
    July 1, 2010

    "Then a senior executive of a leading quango came to see me… He told me they would cut the back office by 30%, amalgamate their offices, use natural wastage to cut staff and direct more of the cash to useful services we do need."

    John it's the 1st of July not April.

  9. Steve
    July 1, 2010

    Well, if Network Rail will halve the cost of the railway to taxpayers, which is what I assume is meant by their statement, that will almost certainly be achieved by passing on the cost to the railway operators and hence to fare-paying passengers. Network Rail has proved itself incapable of cutting its own overheads, so this is the only way they can achieve their stated goal. In other words, less subsidies and much higher fares. Fair enough, I guess, for those like myself who seldom use the railways, but it will be very unpopular amongst the suburban commuting class who (I guess) largely vote Conservative or Lib Dem.

  10. Norman
    July 1, 2010

    Why wasn't the head of that quango lobbying Labour Ministers a year ago with the same story? Or was he and he was ignored?

    I suppose he should be praised for talking sense now or perhaps, if what you say about the uselessness of said quango is true, he's thinking that being head of 50% of a quango is better than none at all!

  11. A.Sedgwick
    July 1, 2010

    As the great and the good have woken up to how special The John Lewis Partnership is perhaps Network Rail needs to be given to the staff in a similar way. The railway unions have to much power and we should remain wary of them. In a non/low union organisation we could reverse a lot of Beeching, cut the need for internal flights and encourage people to use the train, particularly off peak with seriously low fares. Our railways and imaginative thinking are mutually exclusive as your anecdote examples.

  12. Alan Jutson
    July 1, 2010

    Your leading Quango man should be sacked for not having the courage to speak up earlier, and thus taking money under false pretences.

    Come to think of it this may be the very reason we could get rid of a vast number of Public workers, including some politicians.

    Reduce the numbers in all areas, alter the systems and get a more efficient organisation at lower cost.

  13. Jonathan
    July 1, 2010

    Our public transport policy is an embarassment and the railways are a big part of that; expensive for the public both directly with every trip and indirectly with taxpayer's money.

  14. christina sarginson
    July 2, 2010

    Such a lot going on in the coalition government now with the cuts and looking a t more efficient ways of working, getting rid of the quangos is a good idea in many cases but where is the work going to be undertaken?

  15. mart
    July 3, 2010

    Dear John: Railways need subsidy. Were you suggesting they do not? I don't really understand the position of those who supported the privatisation of the railways, on the subject of public subsidy of the railways. Being a public service, they need public subsidy. Normal rules of business do not fully apply. Maybe I failed to grasp something somewhere.. did I? Thanks, as ever

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