LETTER: Make firm rely on customers

Keyboard SUS-160615-124004001
Keyboard SUS-160615-124004001

Any Government initiative in the world of business needs to be very wary of distorting the financial link between a service supplier and the customers expected to use that service.

Businesses shielded from the acid test of dependency on income from customers will quickly lose direction and credibility – a downhill spiral which, if uncorrected, leads inevitably to closure.

Govia Thameslink Railway was awarded the franchise to run Southern rail services in 2015. But the terms of their contract with Government were, to say the least, unusual by any test of business rationale.

When you buy your rail ticket you may be surprised to learn that your money does not in fact go to GTR, the organisation responsible for running your train.

Instead it goes straight to the Government – who, in a totally separate financial transaction, pay GTR regular pre-determined contractual sums on which to run their business.

Bexhill Rail Action Group (BRAG) was not alone in expressing concern from the outset about this contractual relationship.

Being dependent on the Government, rather than its customers, for its income stream renders GTR vulnerable to pressure to deliver political objectives at the expense of normal commercial decisions.

And, as recent media analysis has shown, there is considerable evidence that the guiding principle behind Southern rail services has shifted from running the best possible railway to becoming an arm of Government industrial relations policy.

The final twist to this barely believable situation is that even if we as passengers get no trains at all – as has been the case on recent ‘strike days’ – GTR continue to receive their contractual payments from Government in full. And where does the money to pay GTR come from? Not from fare income because we are not buying tickets when no trains are running. No, indeed, it is we as taxpayers who are increasingly footing the bill to enable GTR to continue to preside over the worst run railway franchise in the country.

And, of course, tax revenue used for this ignoble purpose is no longer available for investing in hard-pressed public services such as the NHS and care for the elderly.

BRAG has been campaigning hard for the Government to recognise the futility of its current contractual relationship with GTR. We have not, so far, demanded that GTR be removed from its Franchise.

Instead we want the Government to contractually require GTR to run our rail services as a successful commercial business – dependent for its income stream on revenue from its paying customers.

If these principles had applied from the outset we would today either have something like a ‘normal’ rail service – or GTR would have gone out of business through its own professional failure to meet customer expectations

Even now the Government shows absolutely no sign of recognising the enormity of the economic crisis and human misery it has created.

BRAG therefore strongly urges all readers to bombard the Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling and our local MPs with demands for immediate action to get our rail services running again.

HUGH SHARP

Chairman

Bexhill Rail Action Group

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