Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Busman's Holiday

Labour have moved swiftly to reinstate their former iron grip on Reading Transport Limited which has to be bad news for Reading. Their last controlling era resulted in the ethanol bus fiasco, which was forced on the company for a few pictures on Labour's election leaflets and nearly had catastrophic consequences.

Thanks to the Greens, the current board make-up is a politically unbalanced Labour: 3; Trades Unions: 1; Conservative 2; Business Appointees; 2. With David Sutton in the chair this gives Labour complete control and with Tony Page no-doubt planning to resurrect his role as a shadow director there are good grounds for concern over political interference in the company's future operations.

Labour also closed the Station Hill approach which meant that the long standing ambition of Reading Transport Board for a fully integrated interchange was nobbled before it could get off the ground. The long term effects on the company are yet to be known.

I have to say that I've enjoyed my time as a director of Reading Transport Limited. James Freeman is an excellent Chief Executive for tough times and I thank him for his open mind to new ideas. There is a good team at Great Knollys Street and I give a big thanks to all the staff who made me welcome.

I think I made a difference. At my very first board meeting I brought up the issue of the effect of that flat fares had on the inner town area and was met with a ferocious attack from one Tony Page, who at that time was double-dipping as a director and lead councillor for Transport. Data from the transport department was showing that residents in Battle ward were driving their cars to work whilst those in Tilehurst were using the bus! His position was clearly untenable but he couldn't help but puff himself up and rail against the temerity of someone having a new idea that wasn't his.

Three years later, an inner zone in the guise of the '£1 to Town' fares is being rolled out across the network and my idea for a discount irregular user card became the EasySaver 10. I also trialled using Twitter during the 2009 snow problems as a method of customer communication and was pleased to be successful in getting it adopted as a standard customer service tool. I still get a "I did that" feeling when I see the buses go past with their @reading_buses twitter feed adverts!

I shall have to check carefully as an ex-director what I am now able to say about previous episodes as my main concern would be to protect the reputation of the company but Labour control of the board does not bode well given their previous interference.

I also wonder whether Trish Thomas will be trousering the £6,000 that the company normally pays to non-executive directors who are not councillors. I've been told that Mike Townend will not be claiming it so a statement that Labour are not using directorships to financially reward yet more of their former councillors with company cash would be welcome.

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